If you’re breaking up with your child’s other parent or if you’re a parent headed toward divorce, and you’re wondering if older children can choose which parent to live with, you’re not alone. A lot of people believe that once a child reaches a certain age, generally 12, 13, or 14, that the child has the power to choose which parent to live with in a child custody case.
“Can an older child choose custody in Tennessee?” Not exactly, and this is a common misconception that parents all over the country have. Children ages 12 and older in Tennessee can certainly voice their preference, but the ultimate decision lies with the judge on the case. However, a judge may listen to a younger child’s preferences as well, providing the child is mature enough, but there is no guarantee the child will get their wish.
Best Interests of the Child Doctrine
Ideally, a child’s parents will work out a child custody agreement amongst themselves and with the help of their respective divorce attorneys. But, sometimes parents cannot agree and they both want the child to live with them.
In the case of a child custody dispute, the judge will evaluate the facts of the case and arrive at a decision based on the child’s best interests. Before making a decision, the judge will consider a number of factors, including:
- Where each parent will live
- The child’s emotional ties to each parent
- Each parent’s ability to provide food, shelter, medical care, and clothing for the child
- Which parent has been the child’s primary caregiver
- The importance of keeping the child’s environment stable
- Each parent’s physical and mental health
- The child’s ties to their school and community
- Any history of domestic violence
- The character and poor behavior of anyone who regularly visits the parent’s home
- The child’s preference, especially if the child is 12 or older, but the court may listen to a younger child’s wishes upon request
Under Tennessee law, judges must listen to the custodial preference of children age 12 and older, and in some cases, the custodial preference of younger children. However, the greatest weight is given to children who are 14 or older. Even still, judges are inclined to listen to the preferences of younger children, particularly when a child is mature and able to articulate their preference and their reasons behind it.