This is a common question among parents looking to get a divorce. But how much does a child’s opinion really count in a custody decision – and how old do they have to be for a judge to consider their wishes? Our attorneys explain when a child can decide which parent to live with in the state of Maryland and why working with an attorney may be beneficial for your custody case.

How Old Does a Child Have to Be to Decide Which Parent to Live With?

In Maryland, the only person that has the final say on child custody matters is the judge. However, the judge overseeing your custody case may opt to allow the child to express his or her wishes for which parent the child would prefer to live with. The child’s preference is taken into consideration along with several other factors.

In some situations, a child who is at least 16 years old may petition the court for a change in custody. The child must present solid reasons to support their petition – simply arguing that this or that household has more lenient discipline rules, for example, is not enough to show the judge the move would truly benefit the child.

What Is the “Best Interests of the Child” Standard?

Courts may use the best interests of the child standard when making custody decisions. What is best or most convenient for a parent may not necessarily align with the child’s best interests. This helps the judge make choices based on what will be the most beneficial for the child in the long run so as to enable that child to grow in a nurturing environment. When a child wishes to choose a parent to live with, the judge may use this standard to assess whether the child’s wishes should be granted or not.

What Criteria Will a Judge Use When Considering the Wishes of the Child?

Some of the criteria used by the judge to determine whether the child’s wishes should be taken into consideration are the child’s level of maturity, ability to form his or her own opinions, and ability to separate fantasy from reality (in the case of children younger than 7). The judge may place more weight on the preferences of older children, but it is ultimately up to the judge to make the final decision.

As you can see, while a child cannot actually decide who to live with, his or her opinions can make a difference in a custody case. Working with an attorney is important for you to help navigate your custody case. If your child is at least 16, they may benefit from coming along with you to see an attorney who can help them be better prepared to initiate a petition with the court. If you have questions about child custody, contact the attorneys at Paré & Associates, LLC. Call Paré & Associates, LLC today at (301) 515-1190 to schedule a free consultation.