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Can a child choose which parent to live with?

December 28, 2013


Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…

Can a child choose which parent to live with?

Sometimes parents involve their children in custody, residency and access matters hoping the opinion of the child sways the outcome. At other times, children may seek to initiate a change themselves. The child’s desire may be due to conflict with a parent; seeking to be closer to a particular school or friends; or even seeking to avoid reasonable parental expectations looking instead to live with the parent with whom they have greater albeit inappropriate freedoms.  Thus children sometimes wonder about their influence in such matters too.

Generally, custody, residency and access decisions are matters for parents to decide. When they are unable to reach a decision between themselves, parents may turn to a counsellor for guidance. If that is unsuccessful, parents may then turn to a mediator and if that is unsuccessful, they may turn to the court.
With regard to the input of children, the older the child, they more weight their input can have in the decision making process.

Often the age of twelve is considered a turning point when the opinion of a child may begin to truly give added weight to these decisions. However, there is nothing magical or automatic about that number. Maturity of the child, the situation and parental influence will also be important factors, not to mention the needs of the child and the respective parent’s ability to meet those needs appropriately and in a timely fashion. Therefore, being minors, the decision still remains in the hands of adults, be they the parents, professionals or Courts.

Parents are always cautioned against involving their children in custody, residency or access decisions.

In the event a parent influences a child, the child may feel in a bind, unable to resist the influence of the parent and not wanting to undermine their relationship with the other parent. Hence influencing a child only adds to their psychological and emotional distress living between their separated parents. In these circumstances, parents must ask themselves if what they are doing is truly for the child or their own interest.

From the child’s perspective there can be all sorts of legitimate reasons to alter their residency between separated parents. However the child may not be privy as to how the custody, residency or access decisions were arrived at in the first place. Hence their view of the situation may not be fully informed. So while children may form a reasonable argument in view of their desire, it still remains between the parents to discuss and reach a decision.

Whether child initiated or parent initiated, parents are encouraged to sit down with each other and the older child and if unable to resolve matters between themselves, consult a counsellor, mediator or lawyer to aid in their decision making process.
Counsellors or mediators who work for an agency may have long waiting lists for service. Those who are in private practice, where the parents pay for service, are generally more readily available. While parents may consult with the older child, hopefully in the end they will keep the actual decision making process to themselves.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. janet permalink

    Some parents know how to manipulate the state. My ex did and depending on what state you live in the judge will refuse to look at information if it goes against his humble opinion. No matter who or what expertise the person who gives the information has.

  2. ” looking instead to live with the parent with whom they have greater albeit inappropriate freedoms.” This always worries me as we feel that my stepdaughter even as she grows older will always choose to stay with her mum for this exact reason.

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