When Are Children Old Enough To Decide Where They Should Live

There is no magic age when a child can decide with which parent they prefer to live. Changing custody requires a two step process. The first step is the determination of whether or not there has been (a) a change in circumstances or (b) proper cause to change custody. A normal life change, or the ordinary stages of a child’s normal development, cannot be considered a change in circumstances. Remarriage or a move within the same school district is not enough to change custody. The conditions surrounding custody of the child, which have or could have a significant effect on the child’s well-being, must have materially changed. Proper cause requires that the grounds presented must be of a magnitude to have a significant effect on the child’s well-being. Once either a change in circumstances or proper cause is deemed to exist, then the twelve custody factors (addressing the child’s best interests) are reviewed. One of those twelve factors is the reasonable preference of the child. Typically, the court will only take the child’s preferences into account if the court first determines that the child is of sufficient age to express a preference. The child’s preference is just one factor and the court will take ALL the factors into account, such as the parents’ abilities, the stability of their homes and the child’s school record.

In a nutshell, in a custody case, courts will sometimes address a child’s preference as to which parent to live with. However, unless there is a significant change in circumstances (that is not due to the normal process of growing up), courts in Michigan do not change custody simply because a child reaches a certain age and wants to live with a different parent.