Creating and maintaining a consistent custody schedule is a challenge for many Pennsylvania parents. Once a custody arrangement is in place, there may come a time when changes are necessary.
A new job, relocation or a child getting older are all things that sometimes require the modification of a custody arrangement. Children become more involved in school and extracurricular activities and are better able to express their wishes about custody as they age.
A child cannot generally choose their custody schedule
However, there is a common misconception that once a child reaches a certain age, they have the power to decide their own custody schedule. This is not true – or at least, it’s not the whole story.
Your child might become a teenager and suddenly declare that they want to live with you and not your co-parent. While they may be capable of clearly expressing that desire and the reasons why, that alone is not enough for a court to award you full physical custody.
Although a child’s preferences are given more weight by a court as the child ages, there are several additional factors that a court considers when determining a custody schedule.
Some of these additional factors include:
- Each parent’s parental duties
- Physical proximity of the parents’ households
- The stability of each parent
A court also examines any present or past abuse committed by each parent against each other or the child, as well as any history of drug or alcohol abuse. Therefore, if there is evidence that one parent is abusive or has an untreated drug or alcohol addiction, they are not likely to receive full physical custody, no matter what the child says they want.
A child’s maturity level matters
When a court does listen to a child’s wishes about which parent they want to live with, the child’s judgment and maturity level are considered.
Your child could be 17 years old and not exhibit a high enough maturity level for their preference to be given great weight. Alternatively, they could be 12 years old and demonstrate a high level of maturity. Therefore, a child’s age sometimes has no bearing on their ability to have a say in custody.
This can be difficult, especially since you may feel like you know your child best and know that their wishes are sincere. However, a child is required to follow a court-imposed custody arrangement until they are an adult.
If your child’s reasons for not wanting to live with the other parent involve abuse or an unsafe environment, you should work on gathering evidence to show this. In the meantime, do not withhold them from the other parent in violation of a custody order, as this could result in penalties by a court.
Addressing the problem with your co-parent
When safety or abuse are not an issue, communicate with your co-parent about what your child is saying and try to learn the reasons why. It might be something the two of you can work on together.
Remember that the goal of a custody court is to make sure each parent has regular and continuing contact with their child. This allows parents and children to maintain close and stable relationships.