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How Old Does a Child Have to Be Before They Can Decide Who Should Be Their Custodial Parent? 

One of the most emotional, and often contentious, issues when parents separate or divorce is with whom the child will live. While Alabama law stipulates that a child custody determination must be made within the best interests of the child, what is within a child’s “best interests” is often disagreed upon. To help a court make a decision regarding which parent should be awarded custody, the court will consider a number of factors – one such factor may be the child’s preferences. For parents who are divorcing then, how old a child must be before the court will weigh their preference is surely a pressing question.

The Best Interests of the Child and Child’s Preferences

Alabama’s laws regarding child custody read that in the event that parents divorce or voluntarily separate, “either father or mother, as may seem right or proper” may be given custody of the child. The court will consider factors including the “moral character and prudence of the parents” and the age and sex of the child. A court has a legal obligation to consider all factors relevant to the child’s best interest, including each parent’s ability to promote love and affection between the child and the child’s other parent, parents’ ability to effectively communicate, any history of abuse or violence, parents’ proximity to one another, and more.
In the event that a change in principal residence of the child is proposed, the court may consider this factor as relevant to a (change in) child custody determination. If this is the case, then “the preference of the child, taking into considerations the age and maturity of the child” shall be considered, per Alabama Code Section 30-3-169.3 Keep in mind that the child’s preference is merely a factor in a determination, and not the final word.

Maturity of the Child

There is no explicit requirement found in Alabama code during a child custody determination for a child’s wishes to be considered; instead, the consideration of a child’s preference is only required by statute when a change in principle residence is being proposed, and the child is of sufficient maturity to make a sound judgment. What is considered “sufficient maturity” may vary on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, a child who is only age 10 may be considered sufficiently mature; in other cases, the child may need to be a teenager before they are considered mature enough to make a decision about where, and with whom, they wish to live.
Help Understanding Child Custody Laws in Alabama

Knowing whether or not your child has the right to express a preference regarding with whom they will live or where they will reside can be an unnerving, emotional, and confusing dilemma. For clarification of the laws regarding factors considered when making a child custody determination, how to protect your child’s best interests, and how to improve your chances of being awarded custody of your child. Contact the Law Office of Ginger Poynter, LLC at (251) 445-8313 today. Your initial consultation is always free. 

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