Child custody is often one of the most difficult issues during divorce and decisions can have lasting consequences. While a judge considers many factors during a custody case - home life, finances, educational and extracurricular activities and stability - child preference can sometimes also enter the calculus.
In the state of Texas, a child's preferences are generally considered when they are 12 years of age or older in contested child custody cases. It is crucial to note, that although the child's opinion will be taken into consideration, the judge does not have to follow that request, though they will likely give it proper attention. The only time a child will completely have a say as to which parent they live with is after they turn 18, though as they get closer to that age, their opinion is likely to matter significantly more.
How does the process work?
When a child is 12 or older, the judge usually speaks with the child in a one-on-one interview to learn their preference. For younger children, the judge may choose to do so at his or her discretion. For parents who worry about how this might impact their child, it is very rare that a child would need to testify in open court as part of the record.
Can a child choose a visitation schedule?
Even though a child has the right to voice a preference when it comes to primary custody, the parents either need to agree to a visitation schedule or the judge will determine one. The child can communicate visitation wishes to the judge during the interview, an attorney, or the child counselor, but this won't necessarily determine the final arrangement.
Joint managing conservatorship
In Texas, a judge may also decide to rule for joint managing conservatorship or JMC. In this arrangement, the rights and duties of parenting are provided to both parties, though one will be given the exclusive rights over certain parenting decisions.
This arrangement is often reached by agreement. The court must still determine if JMC will best meet the physical, emotional, and developmental needs of the child. For example, JMC is appropriate for parents who live close to one another and can work together to meet the needs of their child. For answers to child custody questions and to address concerns speak with an experience family law attorney early in the process.