When Can My Child Decide Who They Will Live With?

If you live in Arizona, the answer is when they turn 18. While some states allow children of a certain age to decide who they wish to live with, Arizona does not allow for a child to make the decision, regardless of the child’s age. Accordingly, until the child turns 18, absent agreement of the parties, the court will make the decision on parenting time regardless of the age of the child.

If the child is of sufficient age and maturity, there is some weight given to a child’s preference. However, the preference of your child is only one of many factors a judge may consider in determining a parenting time schedule. The age of your child and his or her ability to express the underlying reason for their preference to live with either parent will determine the amount of weight the judge will give to your child’s preference. Although there is no age at which your child’s preference determines parenting time, most judges give more weight to the wishes of an older child such as a child who is 16 or 17.

The reasoning underlying your child’s preference is also a factor to consider. Consider the fifteen-year-old who wants to live with mother because “Mom lets me stay out past curfew, I get a bigger allowance, and I don’t have to do chores.” Greater weight might be given to the preference of an eight-year-old who wants to live with mother because “she helps me with my homework, reads me bedtime stories, and doesn’t call me names like Dad does.”

If you see that your child’s preference may be a factor in the determination of parenting time, discuss it with your lawyer so that this consideration is a part of assessing the action to be taken in your case.

About the Authors:

Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a member of the State Bar’s Family Law Practice and Procedure Committee and is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.

Bob Schwartz is a Member in our Phoenix office. Bob has been practicing law for over 40 years, specializing in family law. He is a member of the American, Arizona and Maricopa County Bar Associations. He is admitted to practice in the federal courts of New York, Arizona, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Schwartz is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and past president of the Arizona chapter. He serves as a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family court matters. He is a certified family law specialist by the State Bar of Arizona; is a frequent lecturer on family law and related matters; and, former member of the State Bar Family Law Advisory Commission. Mr. Schwartz has tried numerous complex business valuation cases as well as complex custody cases. He has testified as an expert in family law matters. Bob co-authored the Divorce in Arizona book. He may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5020.