When a Michigan couple gets a divorce, child custody is one of the most common reasons for an extended dispute. Whether the parties are amicable or contentious, the decision as to where the child will live the bulk of the time and how visitation rights will be handled can be complex and emotionally draining. There are myriad factors with child custody. One that might arise and can be somewhat confusing is if the child expresses a preference.

The law addresses a child’s preferences within certain parameters

Children are granted the right to have their voices heard when child custody is determined in a divorce. However, there are parameters in which the child can express his or her desires in terms of child custody. A fundamental factor is the child’s “reasonable preference.” This will be taken into consideration if the child is deemed to be of sufficient age and maturity to make a statement to that effect. There is no baseline way to assess whether it is “reasonable” or not. However, the judge can use the child’s age and the child has been consistent in showing a preference.

Age is key, but so is the child’s maturity. As a child ages, there will be an increased understanding of the situation. The judge can let the child’s voice be heard. Still, the child is not legally able to decide where to live until turning 18 or is emancipated before turning 18. If the child has consistently stated a preference of where to live and it is deemed reasonable, this too will be assessed when the determination is made. The judge will consider whether the child’s preference is based on having recently spent an extended period with either parent. The child’s understanding of the ramifications of expressing a preference is critical.

Child custody matters can be difficult and legal advice can be helpful

Gauging a child’s stated preferences and how much weight it is granted is a basic part of a case. It is important to have legal advice to address it. Those who are in the middle of a divorce and are in dispute over child custody or people who have already completed their case and there is a change of custody request should know how the child’s wishes will be analyzed by the court. For this or any other family law concern, having legal assistance may be essential.