If parents decide to divorce, must the children stand up before a judge and choose which parent they want to live with? No. There are several reasons why not.
For starters: Under Michigan law, children do not have the legal right to choose where they want to live until they turn 18 and become legal adults.
In family courts, judges can and often do speak to children to get a sense of how they are coping with a situation that can be confusing and difficult for them. During these conversations, children may express a desire to live with one parent more often than the other. A court can consider the “reasonable preference” of a child to live with one parent more often than the other, but this is just one factor for the court to consider.
The child’s preferences take on more weight as the child grows older and shows a greater understanding of the situation. A court may also give more weight to the child’s preferences if it finds that the child’s preferences have remained consistent for a long period of time.
However, the ultimate decision in these cases belongs to the judge, who must determine the best interests of the child through examining a long list of factors, including the health of the child, the fitness of the parents, the child’s school records, any record of domestic violence, and the willingness of the parents to establish and implement a parenting plan.
In fact, this last factor is the most important in many cases. The best results can usually be found when the parents are willing and able to work with each other on a parenting plan that divides duties between them. A good parenting plan respects the rights and needs of both parents, while putting the child’s best interest first and foremost.
When the parties can work to develop this type of plan out of court, with the help of their own attorneys, they can turn over their plan to the court, which will review it and, typically, approve it. There are many advantages to resolving child custody issues this way. Resolving disputes out of court is typically faster and less expensive than doing so in court. It also gives parents a much greater degree of control over their outcome. Parents know their children better than a judge does, after all, and they should be in a better position to determine the best interests of their children.
It can be difficult to work with an ex on anything, and child custody disputes can get highly emotional. Skilled lawyers can use mediation and other techniques to help parents set aside their personal differences and work for the best interests of their kids.