Can Children Express Preference in Wyoming Custody Proceedings?

Do judges consider a child's preference when making custody decisions? Find out below.

Separating parents usually consider many factors when trying to figure out the best custody arrangement for their children, including childcare concerns, each parent’s relationship with the children, and each parent’s work schedule. One factor that parents sometimes overlook is the children’s custodial preferences. In most states, however, judges are required to consider a child’s opinion when deciding custody.

This article will explain how a child’s preference affects custody in Wyoming. If you have additional questions about a child’s custodial preference in Wyoming after reading this article, you should  consult a local family law attorney.

Overview of Custody Decisions in Wyoming

Wyoming courts have to determine child custody in each case where the parents can’t come to a custody agreement. Judges consider a number of factors when deciding custody, including the following:

  • each parent’s relationship with the child
  • each parent’s relative competence and fitness to raise the child
  • each parent’s ability to provide childcare during their visitation periods, including arranging for each child’s care by others, if needed
  • each parent’s willingness to accept parental responsibilities
  • how the parents and each child can best maintain and strengthen relationships with each other
  • how each parent and child interact and communicate with each other
  • the distance between the parents’ residences
  • each parent’s physical and mental ability to care for each child
  • either parent’s history of spousal or child abuse
  • the child’s preference, if the child is of proper age and maturity, and
  • any other factor the court deems relevant to custody.

To read more information about custody decisions in Wyoming, see  Child Custody in Wyoming: The Best Interests of the Child.

When Will the Court Consider a Child’s Preference?

In Wyoming, courts consider children’s preferences when the child is of sufficient age and is mature enough to voice a reasonable opinion. Judges don’t require a child to be a specific age to listen to their custodial preference; each judge determines each child’s maturity on a case-by-case basis. At least one Wyoming court has said, however, that a seven year-old child is too young to have a meaningful custodial preference.

When judges decide whether to consider a child’s preference as part of the custody decision, they look to the child’s intelligence and reasonableness of the preference. For example, in one case, the court found that although the girl was only 13 � years old, she was very intelligent. Also, the girl’s reasons for wanting to live with her mother were because she had a closer relationship with her, and she was able to attend school whereas she didn’t attend school when living with her father. The judge found those reasons to be mature and reasonable and granted custody of the girl to the mother.

Even if a child’s preference is reasonable and mature, however, courts don’t have to follow the child’s opinion. Judges simply have to consider the preference along with all the other factors. The overarching criterion for determining child custody is what is in the child’s best interest. If a judge believes it’s in a child’s best interest to live with the parent the child didn’t select, the judge won’t hesitate to rule against the child’s wishes. Also, if the court believes that a parent has coached or coerced a child, the court will disregard the child’s opinion altogether.

Do Children Have to Testify About Their Custodial Preferences in Court?

Wyoming courts normally won’t make children testify in court about their custodial preferences. Instead, judges prefer to interview children in chambers, outside of their parents’ presence. It’s already difficult for a child to state which parent he or she prefers to live with; it can traumatize children to have to choose between their parents in front of them.

When courts want to interview children privately in chambers, they’ll ask the parents’ permission. If the parents object, the judge has a few other options. The court can allow the attorneys to be present for the in-chambers conversation so they can have an opportunity to address anything children say during the interview. Judges can also have a court reporter record the interview and provide a transcript to the parents' attorneys.

Courts may also appoint third party professionals, like custody evaluators or psychologists, to speak with children about their custodial preferences and report back to the court. Finally, judges may allow children to testify in court, but limit the questions the parents’ attorneys ask or even ask all the questions rather than allowing the attorneys to do so.

If you have additional questions about the effect of children’s custodial preferences, contact a Wyoming family law attorney for help.

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