At What Age Can a Child Choose Who to Live With?

24 February 2020

In England and Wales a child can choose who to live with from the age of 16, unless there are certain Court Orders in place that say otherwise. However, you can allow younger children to make this decision for themselves if you wish, but their decision alone won't have any legal standing.

Deciding Who a Child Should Live With after Divorce

If you are getting a divorce or are separating and you have children, one of the most important considerations will be who the children are going to live with.

You can allow your child to make this decision for themselves. This is your choice as a parent; there’s no set age that determines when a child is allowed to say where he/she wants to live. However, a child is not legally entitled to choose who to live with until the age of 16. Therefore it usually falls to the parents to decide who is going to be the ‘primary care-giver’ (meaning the person the child lives with).

For some families the decision will be clear while for others it could be more complicated. Often one parent agrees to move out, leaving the other parent and the children in the family home. This way, the children's lives will be disrupted as little as possible. However, this is not necessarily the right choice for everyone.

Can't Agree Who Your Child Should Live With?

For some families, there may be a dispute as to where children should live and how much contact each parent should have with them. If you find yourself in this situation it's important to get legal advice from a Family and Divorce Solicitor as soon as possible. There are likely to be a number of options available to you, including Mediation and Court proceedings.

Mediation gives you and your ex the chance to discuss childcare arrangements, while a specially trained Mediator guides the conversation. Mediation can allow you and your ex to come to a mutual decision as to who will be the primary care-giver. During the discussion, you can also decide how often the other parent (the 'non-resident' parent) gets to see the children.

If you and your ex still cannot agree on child custody, you'll need to take the matter to Court where a Judge will decide. The Judge's decision will be based on the child's best interests.

During Court proceedings, the child's wishes will also be taken into consideration, although how much weight they carry will depend on the circumstances. Generally if a child is over the age of 12 and is thought to understand the situation, their wishes can influence the outcome.

Court Orders

Once a child reaches the age of 16, he/she is legally allowed to choose which parent to live with. The only reason this wouldn’t apply is if there’s a Court Order stating that a child must remain with a certain parent until a certain time.

For example, there may be a Residence Order or a Child Arrangement Order in place. Often these expire when a child turns 16 if the order is in relation to contact only but they will normally last until the child is 18 if the order contains provisions as to where a child lives.

If you are having trouble deciding who a child should live with, our Family and Divorce Lawyers can help you. We can explore the options available, helping you come to a solution that is in your child’s best interests.

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