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Can a child choose which parent to live with when creating a Virginia custody agreement?

When it comes to child custody, there are rarely easy answers. While both parents want what’s best for the child, this doesn’t mean they will agree on what that means.

In some cases, the child seems capable of making a decision as to where to live, especially if they are an older child or teenager. In Virginia, there is no “magic age” that allows the child to make this choice. If they are under 18, the decision is ultimately made by the court if parents cannot come to an agreement on their own.

While children cannot make the final determination, they can often influence the judge’s decision through a few different factors. Formal Virginia custody law states in Section 20-124.3, the Court must consider “[t]he reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference.”

How a Child Can Express Custody Preference in Virginia

If a child wishes to express a preference for a custody agreement, they must be old enough to demonstrate to the judge they have the intelligence and understanding of the situation to make a sound decision. Age definitely helps with this factor, and children over the age of 14 are generally considered to be old enough to have a voice. If a child is younger than 14 years old, the court can still consider the child’s preference, but will instead determine the final arrangement through other factors such as each parent’s health, legal history, and financial situation.

A judge will not likely listen to a child expressing preference due to superficial and potentially damning reasons, such as one parent being more indulgent or lenient with the child. However, if a child feels closer to one parent or safer in a particular situation, this preference does have merit.

If both parents are suitable to raise the child, the child’s preference may serve as a “tie-breaker.”

How a Family Lawyer Can Help

Custody agreements can quickly get complicated, and bringing a child’s preferences into consideration can make it even more difficult. A family lawyer can help you make sense of the task at hand and guide both you and your estranged spouse toward a solution that works well for all. If your custody agreement does not end in your favor, a lawyer can also help you stay in alignment with the court order and help things to go more smoothly.

Do You Need to Speak to a Virginia Divorce Attorney?

If you are considering divorce, you need to speak with an experienced Virginia divorce attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Fairfax, Virginia, law office at 703.277.2811 to schedule your free consultation. We help clients throughout Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and look forward to helping you.

Related Links:

  • 4 Ways to Prepare for a Child Custody Hearing

  • You Can Make Co-Parenting Work

  • Sound Advice About Child Support Guidelines