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Sad boy looking camera while his parents argue

NJ Custody Proceedings: Can Children Express Preference?

When parents of minor children split, the most challenging decision they have to make is which parent will have primary custody of the child. If parents can’t resolve a custody matter out of court, a judge must decide who gets custody of the child. Regardless of the circumstances, it can be challenging to determine child custody. However, it is even more complicated when a child is vocal about their preference for whether they would like to spend most of their time. If you are facing a custody battle, it’s in your best interest to enlist the help of an experienced Ocean County Child Custody Attorney who can help secure the best outcome for your child. Please continue reading to learn how much weight a child’s preference holds when determining custody in New Jersey. 

What Factors Influence Custody Decisions?

When separating parents can’t reach an agreement on how to split their parenting responsibilities and visitation time, a judge will have to decide for them. It’s important to understand that New Jersey courts follow “the best interest of the child standard.” Essentially, they will consider what will be best for the child’s life and well-being rather than what the parents may want. The following include but are not limited to some of the factors that the court will evaluate to determine the best interests of a child:

  • The age and number of children
  • Each parent’s fitness
  • The ability of both parents to provide a safe environment for the child
  • Each parent’s income and earning capacity
  • Who was the primary caregiver
  • The geographical proximity of each parent’s home
  • The child’s preference (if of sufficient age)
  • Any history of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence
  • Any history of substance abuse issues
  • Any other relevant factors

Do Courts Consider a Child’s Preference in Custody Determinations?

When deciding custody in New Jersey, a judge will weigh various factors. Generally, if the court deems a child mature enough to express their opinion about which parent they wish to live with, they will consider it. However, judges are not legally bound to fulfill the child’s wishes if the court deems their opinion doesn’t align with their best interest.

If the court finds a child mature enough to express their opinion, they will not speak as it can be intimidating. It’s important to note that parents are not usually allowed to be present for fear they may sway the child’s answers. The judge will ask the child several questions to determine whether the child is making an intelligent decision or if the child is rebelling against the current custodial parent. Additionally, they will investigate whether a parent is unfairly influencing the child to express an opinion.

Nevertheless, regardless of the child’s age, the court will only consider the child’s opinion if the child is of a sufficient age to express an opinion based on sound reasoning. Judges tend to give the views of older teenagers more weight, as younger children often have immature values that cause them to choose a parent based on superficial reasons. Ultiamtely, the more mature a child’s rationale is for preferring a parent, the more weight it will carry in court.

If you are facing issues regarding child custody in New Jersey, please don’t hesitate to contact a compassionate attorney from the Law Office of Sarina Gianna, LLC, for a consultation to learn more about how we can assist you today.