When can a child decide custody?

Rather than making you read more and then giving you the answer later, I’ve decided just to say it up front: under North Carolina law a child almost never has the final legal say as to which parent he or she will live with.  In other words, custody is always up to the judge.

If you have spent any time at all looking over our firm’s website, you know I am a strong advocate of parents trying to keep their children out of  custody fights.   I also generally don’t think a child should be put in a position of either feeling like he or she has to choose between parents or that the child has the power to make the choice.  All the judges I’ve ever been in front of seem to feel the same way.  I’ve heard judges explain to children who have been brought in for a custody case that the decision is not the child’s, and I have seen relief on children’s faces when they understand that.

The main determining factors that the judge will take a look at when deciding which parent receives custody are things like the  stability of the parent, their ability to provide for the child financially and mentally, and in general, just being a good model citizen and parent. It’s the judge’s job to award custody in a way to meet the best interests of the child.  A child’s statements about preferences are merely more evidence a judge can use in evaluating best interest.   Every parent knows that a child does not always know what is best for him or her.  Children,  by definition, lack the emotional maturity to make reasoned decisions.  That’s why the judge is free to agree with or disagree with the child’s own personal preference and is not required to do what a child says he or she wants.