At What Age Can a Child Choose Who to Live With after Divorce?
It is a sad fact of life that unless there is abuse, the children suffer most after a divorce. No matter what the parents feel about each other, the children they raised together up to this point still love them both.
Children can get a real guilt complex, thinking the divorce was caused by something they did or said. Having to choose which parent to live with only makes things worse, because they will feel guilty about possibly hurting the one they don’t choose.
The thing is, in Western Australia, a child cannot choose which parent to live with, even though they can make their wishes known to parents and possibly, the court.
The fact is, children in Western Australia are not allowed to speak in court at all, but they can make their wishes known to their parents, a lawyer or caregiver or a counsellor.
It is then up to that person to let the court know what they want. That doesn’t mean they will get their wish.
The judge still has to make a decision based on what he or she knows of the case. Judges are well aware that parents can manipulate their children to influence their decision. That is why they are not allowed to make a decision until they are 18 and considered an adult. From about the age of 14 up, the judge may give their wishes more consideration, especially if they are mature for their age and understand what is going on and how it will affect them.
A child who is 16-17 years of age may quite well have their wish granted by the judge, but the judge will always make sure the decision is based on where the child will be the safest and better cared for.
This protects the child from any manipulation or revenge motive either parent may have in trying to ensure the child lives with them. The judge also considers which parent is most capable of the responsibility of raising a child. Once, the mother was granted custody in nearly all cases; today that may not be the case depending on whether drugs or violence is involved.
The final decision may even be made in favour of someone else besides the parents. Depending on the circumstances, it is possible that a foster carer or other family members will be given the responsibility. In all cases the judge takes into consideration many aspects of the situation to ensure the child gets the best deal now and into their future.