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

5th May 2017

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.

For initial legal advice call our Family & Divorce Lawyers on 03306069626 or contact us online and we will help you.

Deciding Where a Child Lives

If you are getting a divorce or you’re separating and you have children, you and your ex will need to work out 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. It may be that one person 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.

Can’t Agree Where a Child Lives?

For some families, there will be some dispute as to where a child should live, and how much contact each parent should have. If so, you should get legal advice from a Family and Divorce Lawyer as soon as possible. There are various options open to you, including Mediation and Court proceedings.

Mediation gives you and your ex the chance to discuss child care arrangements, with a specially trained Mediator guiding the conversation. It can allow you to come to a mutually agreeable decision as to who will be the primary care-giver, and how often the other parent (the ‘non-resident’ parent) gets to see them.

If you and your ex 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 what is in the child’s best interests.

During Court proceedings, the child’s wishes will 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, but it’s possible for the Court Order to be extended to the child’s 18th birthday.

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.

For initial legal advice on any Family Law, Children Law or Divorce issue, call our Family Lawyers on 03306069626 or contact us online and we will call you.

Co-op Legal Services has over 600 staff working in different businesses with offices in Manchester, Bristol, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sheffield and London.

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