Children change as they age. They get bigger, they become smarter, they have more obligations, and their needs change. They also shift from cute and precocious to moody and opinionated. All of these changes can impact the parent-child relationship to the degree that a child no longer wants to visit with their non-custodial parent. What happens when a child expresses this in the context of a child custody proceeding? Is it the child’s decision to make?
Best Interest of the Child
Courts are required to decide issues of child custody and visitation based upon the best interests of the child. There is no specific definition of best interest—which is a deliberate choice by the legislature and appellate courts—because every child is different and the totality of their circumstances cannot be conveniently confined to one single definition. Therefore, courts have incredibly broad discretion when it comes to deciding how much visitation a noncustodial parent should have with a child. However, there are a number of statutory factors that the court is required to consider when determining the best interests of a child.
One of the factors that a court is required to consider in its best interest determination is the desires of a child, if the child is of a suitable age and capacity to form an intelligent preference as to their physical custody. Generally, courts will put a varying degree of weight on these desires, with greater weight given to children who can maturely articulate what they want. While there is no “magic”age that a child is considered mature, courts will consider the child’s ability to comprehend the situation and to intelligently express themselves.
Courts Are Not Bound By a Child’s Desires
Despite the fact that a court must consider a child’s preference when it comes to custody and visitation, the court is not bound by that preference. In other words, even if a child can clearly explain their desire to stop parental visits, this in no way binds a court in its custody determination. Public policy in this state dictates that children should have ample visitation with both parents. So instead of limiting its decision to just the child’s preference, courts will consider the totality of the child’s circumstances when rendering visitation orders.
Viloria, Oliphant, Oster & Aman L.L.P.
Viloria, Oliphant, Oster & Aman, L.L.P. is a small law firm that provides individuals with big firm results. When it comes to child custody disputes, our attorneys work tirelessly to advocate for our clients’ interests. We do so because we understand that the stakes could not be higher for our clients. If you need help resolving a child custody issue, call Viloria, Oliphant, Oster & Aman L.L.P. today at (775) 227-2280 to schedule an appointment or contact our office through our website.