How old does a child need to be in order to have a “voice” during divorce proceedings in Michigan?
Divorce is hard to do—and even harder with children involved. Custody arrangements can get notoriously contentious, so a judge will step in when couples cannot agree on a plan.
But what about your child’s preference? At what age do children get a say in custody? The answer: It depends. Your child’s preference is just one factor in their custody decision.
The best interest decision
In Michigan, judges look for the custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interest. Judges weigh twelve factors when awarding custody. If the judge decides your child is old enough, their preference will be a factor, but it will not be the single deciding element.
Other factors include:
- The love and emotional ties between the parents and child
- Each parent’s capacity to give love, affection, and guidance and to continue the child’s education and religious development
- Each parent’s ability to provide material necessities, such as food, clothing, and healthcare
- How long the child has lived in their home and how the importance of stability in that home
- The stability of a child’s existing or new home
- The moral fitness of each parent
- The health of each parent, both mental and physical
- The child’s history and record with their school, community, and home
- Each parent’s ability to foster a continuing and close relationship between the child and the other parent
- Each parent’s history of domestic violence
- Any other factor relevant to the specific case
When child preference becomes a factor
In Michigan, there is no set age when children have a voice in divorce proceedings. Judges decide on a case-by-case basis if a child is old enough and mature enough to give an opinion.
Many judges will interview children as young as five or six to help determine the child’s best interests; however, most judges do not consider children’s custody wishes until they are at least nine or ten (if not older).
Age is not the only determining factor when weighing a child’s voice. Judges may also look at less tangible components, such as the child’s maturity or the reasoning behind their wishes. A mature, older child who gives sound reasons may carry equal weight with the other best interest factors. A younger or less mature child’s wishes will carry less weight.
It is important to note that when they consider children’s reasons, judges are not looking for an attorney’s detailed closing argument. Instead, they want to see that a child has their own best interests and long-term success in mind. If a child wants to live with the parent who consistently gets them to school on time, or helps them with schoolwork, that matters. If, however, a child wants to live with the parent who has fewer rules or the bigger game system, that will carry little weight.
A judge may also look at a child’s history with each parent. Has the child consistently expressed a reasonable preference for one parent or the other? Or are they just expressing a preference for the parent they last saw?
Each child and each case is different. It is up to a judge’s discretion to decide what a child’s best interest means, and when to consider the child’s wishes.
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