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Do children have a right to decide where to live after a divorce?

In Massachusetts, it’s important that your child’s custody and visitation orders are set up in their best interests. Your child may have an opinion about what they want, but do you have to listen?

That’s something to consider closely as you and your ex-spouse create a parenting and custody plan.

What does the law say?

In this state, a child does not have the right to decide where to live after their parents’ divorce, even if they have a strong opinion on the matter. Generally speaking, the court will not even consider a child’s opinion on the matter unless the parents cannot agree to a custody and parenting plan on their own. If the issue does go to court, the court will consider a mature child’s wishes — in conjunction with other factors.

What age makes a child “mature” enough to express an opinion?

Interestingly, while a judge needs to listen to a mature child’s opinions, there is not a single age that is defined as mature. An articulate pre-teen could be allowed to speak in court, or a judge may not care to hear from any child younger than 15 years of age. 

Realistically, a judge will likely listen to a child who is old enough to understand their situation. A child who is already in middle or high school is starting to become more independent and may have strong opinions about where they live. If they have good reasoning and are getting old enough to form statements for the court, then a judge is likely to hear them out.

That does not mean, however, that the child will get their way. Custody always rests on whatever is in the best interests of the child — and that may not line up with their wishes.

Create a parenting plan that works

As parents of a child who may have an opinion on custody matters that differs from yours, it’s smart to listen to your child’s feelings before you put together a parenting plan. Trying to arrange custody in a beneficial way for your child, yourself and your ex-spouse is the key to a strong plan that will meet everyone’s needs. An attorney may be able to help you find solutions to your custody problems.