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Will the court consider a child’s preference for custody?

According to the U.S. Census, in 2019, 25.8% of children in the country lived with only one parent. Many of these situations likely involved going to court to settle custody arrangements between the parents.

When the court must decide custody matters, a judge has various factors to consider. One of those in Indiana sometimes includes the child’s preference.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

Indiana adopted the UCCJEA as the basis for making child custody in the state. The act provides guidelines for how to handle these matters, including when to make emergency orders and ensuring a court has jurisdiction. It also includes guidance to consider any testimony of the child, including his or her preferences in arrangements.

Judge’s right to discretion

Despite the UCCJEA suggesting that a child should have input in custody matters, the judge will have the ultimate say. He or she may consider what the child in the situation wants, but many factors may go into how much that will play into the final decision the judge makes.

Factors impacting the influence

The age and maturity of the child play a pivotal role in how much weight his or her preference carries. Courts tend to consider the opinions of older, more mature children more seriously. Younger children may have their preferences considered but to a lesser extent.

If a child expresses a strong desire to live with one parent because they feel safer, happier or more emotionally stable in that environment, the court is more likely to consider this preference.

Courts prioritize the need for consistency and stability in a child’s life. If a child has a well-founded preference for one parent based on the stability of their living situation, routine and educational opportunities, it can be a compelling factor in custody decisions.

Ultimately, the court’s primary focus is on the child’s best interests. The voice of the child often carries substantial weight in the decision-making process.