As any parent knows, a child shouldn’t always get his or her way, even when it comes to custody. However, when a court considers a child’s custodial preference, it’s not necessarily to grant the child’s wish, but to ensure that the child's best interests are met. A child’s desire to live with one parent becomes more significant to a custody decision when it’s clear that the child can make an intelligent choice.
This article provides an overview of the impact of a child’s preference on custody proceedings in Idaho. If you have questions after reading this article, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Custody decisions are easy when parents can agree how to divide and share in the care and support their children. Nevertheless, judges will step in when parents can’t reach an agreement. The best interests of the child are paramount to any custody decision. However, the “best interests” standard is broad, and in Idaho, judges must consider the following factors in every custody case:
Additionally, courts will take into account any episodes of domestic violence committed by either parent. An abusive parent isn’t prohibited from receiving custody of his or her child, but he or she will face additional challenges to obtaining custody. The court may also consider any other circumstances affecting the safety, health or care of the child. To learn more about custody decisions in Idaho, see Child Custody in Idaho: The Best Interests of the Child.
Idaho doesn’t prescribe an exact age at which a child’s custodial preference is controlling. Instead, a judge decides when a child’s wishes will be given enough weight to alter the outcome of a custody case. A child’s parental preference is evaluated in every custody case. However, a child’s custodial wishes will only be given serious consideration in cases where a child is of a sufficient age and maturity.
Since there isn’t a magic age when a child’s desire is given a lot of weight, each case will turn on it’s own facts. In one Idaho case, a 14 year-old’s preference to live with her father was granted, because the court determined it was in her best interests.
Additionally, a child’s custodial preference can also apply to individuals other than the parents, such as grandparents. A 12 year-old’s desire to remain with his grandparents was given significant weight in one case. The boy was allowed to remain with his grandparents because the evidence showed they provided a good home, and he was old enough and intelligent enough to express a well-reasoned preference.
Children rarely need to testify about their custodial preferences in open court. Idaho attempts to shield children from custody proceedings and the disputes of their parents except when absolutely necessary. A judge or appointed professional will watch for signs that a parent is manipulating a child to express a certain custodial preference. Thus, when a child’s preference is needed to make a custody decision, a trained child professional will typically interview the child outside of the parents' presence.
In families of more than one child, each child’s interests and custodial desires will be considered separately. A child’s parental preference can be used in a court case often without the child even setting foot in a courtroom. A licensed child therapist or Guardian ad Litem may be appointed in certain cases to ascertain a child’s wishes - these individuals represent the child’s interests in custody cases and will communicate those needs to a judge.
Alternatively, a judge may elect to meet with a child in chambers – meaning outside the courtroom. Attorneys are typically invited to attend these in-chambers interviews, although parents are not. Any testimony from the interview will be recorded by a court reporter so that it can be used later in court.
If you have additional questions about the effects of children’s preferences in custody proceedings in Idaho, contact a local family law attorney for advice.