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At What Age Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

S. A. Jones Law Feb. 18, 2022

kid holding hands with divorced parents Anyone who has gone through a divorce with children — or was a child watching their parents divorce — knows how difficult it can be. Your whole family is forced to restructure their lives, and as parents, you’ll have to come to an agreement about custody. This decision is almost always decided by the parents or a judge, but can a child determine which parent they want to live with? The answer to this isn’t always clear-cut.

If you have child custody concerns and want to know more about your options, reach out to S. A. Jones Law to speak with a family law attorney. Shannon A. Jones is proud to serve those in the Memphis, Tennessee, area including Germantown, Cordova, and Covington.

Custody in Tennessee

Child custody in Tennessee is always determined by considering the best interests of the child above all else. Custody can be awarded to both parents jointly, to one parent alone, or in rare cases, to a third party if neither parent is found to be fit. Furthermore, it’s important to know the difference between “physical” custody and “legal” custody.

Physical custody refers to where the child lives from one day to another, while legal custody relates to who can make decisions on behalf of the child for things like education, non-emergency healthcare, and religion. It’s not necessary that the same parent has both legal and physical custody, and it’s not uncommon for both parents to share legal custody while only one has physical custody.

How Is Custody Determined?

In cases where both parents agree to a custody arrangement, a judge will typically approve this as long as the child’s welfare is being well-served. However, if the parents cannot come to an agreement, then a judge will consider a number of factors and decide for them.

A judge will look at the ability of each parent to meet their child’s needs, the physical location of the parents to one another, the child’s emotional needs and maturity, each parent’s willingness to promote a healthy relationship with the other parent, and whether there’s been any history of violence or neglect. In some cases, a judge will also consider the child’s own preferences of who they’d like to live with, but it will only be one of many deciding factors.

Child’s Preference

Even though a judge may consider a child’s preference, it is still up to their discretion what they do with this information. So, at what age can a child choose which parent to live with? In Tennessee, you must be at least 12 years old to express a preference on where you’ll live in a custody dispute, although a judge may decide that the child is still not mature enough to make this decision even if they meet the minimum age requirement.

There’s also a stipulation that the child must indicate a “reasonable preference” when choosing, and as you can imagine, this is highly subjective. This might cover cases where a child chooses to live with the more permissive parent over the more strict one. Additionally, it’s more likely that a judge will give greater weight to an older child’s wishes (if they’re 16 or 17) over a younger child.

The court is not required to listen to the preference of children under the age of 12 but may do so regardless. Using the child’s preference and other factors, a judge will then determine the custody arrangement and a visitation schedule.

Family Law Experience You Can Trust

Determining custody arrangements can be an emotional and fraught experience because no parent wants to give up time with their child. However, the more mature each parent can be when going through the divorce process, the better the outcome will be for everyone involved.

If you’re in Memphis, Tennessee, and would like help navigating a child custody agreement or want to know more about how your child’s preferences will be factored in, call S.A. Jones Law.