This is a common question that’s asked when dealing with child custody (or “conservatorship” as it’s called in Texas) when ending their relationship. Officially, a child can choose which parent they want to live with when they turn 18.
In some states, children can decide where they want to live, but, the law in Texas is different. Before 18, a child can have a say in their custody, but the decision isn’t based on their wishes. That rests with the judge deciding the case.
Factors In Deciding Conservatorship
The standard for every custody case in Texas is “the best interest of the child.” The judge reviews the case and makes a decision based on the information available. This can include:
- The parents’ relationship
- Each parent’s relationship with the child
- The child’s age and preferences
- The child’s health, as well as emotional and developmental needs
- The living situation of each parent
- The financial situation of each parent
- The health and wellness of each parent
- Whether there is any history of abuse in the family
The court will decide on the primary conservator, or which parent the child will live with, as well as a visitation schedule. However, should the parent’s circumstances change, either parent can go back to court and request a modification to change the primary conservator.
In a contested family law case, a judge may appoint an amicus attorney to help protect the child’s interests and rights. It has nothing to do with where the child wants to live. The amicus attorney will gather information to make a recommendation to the court. This may include home visits, speaking with the children, their friends, as well as their parents, and attending any mediation or court sessions.
A Child’s Input
Under the previous law, a child could file a request with the court naming the parent that he or she would prefer to live with. Many parents believed that it allowed the child to make the decision, rather than the judge with input from the parents.
Under the new law, Section 153.009 of the Texas Family Code, the judge interviews the child or children in chambers to discuss their preferences for parental conservatorship. Children under the age of 12 may also be interviewed along with an older child or children if permitted by the judge.
A child can express a preference after the age of 12, but it is not the sole deciding factor. The judge may take the child or children’s preference into consideration but will review everything involved in the case before making a decision. Texas family courts also encourage children to have a strong relationship with both parents, even if they aren’t living together anymore.
The judge will also consider questions such as:
- Why does the child want to live with one parent over the other?
- Does the preferred parent have more money, not make them do homework, or allow them to play video games all night?
- Or does the preferred parent have a better relationship with the child?
Ultimately, the decision is left up to the judge, who will decide whether or not to take the child’s wishes into consideration.
Fort Worth Family Law Attorney Wendy L. Hart
For more than 20 years, Wendy L. Hart is an experienced family law attorney helping people throughout Tarrant County with custody, visitation, and other aspects of their children’s lives after a divorce. We work to help you through any family law issues you have, and that your rights are protected. Visit our Mansfield office at 2363 HWY 287 N, Suite 108, use our online contact form, or call us at (817) 842-2336. We’re ready to help.