Tennessee parents who are getting a divorce must decide who will be the primary residential parent, and who will have parenting time visitation with the child. However, if the parents are unable to agree on child custody on their own, a judge will make the decision for them. Sometimes when a family is breaking up, the child will express a preference to live with one parent or the other. The question of whether it is possible for a child to choose which parent will be their primary residential parent, which one they will visit is and how old they must be to make that choice is what we will be exploring in this blog post today.
At what age can a child choose which parent to live with in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, according to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106, there are several factors which a family court judge must take into consideration when they are deciding child custody. Section 13 of the General Custody Provisions allows for “The reasonable preference of the child if twelve (12) years of age or older. The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preference of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children.”
Notice that the law says that the court will hear the reasonable preferences of a 12-year-old child, but it does not say that children 12 years and older can decide which parent they want to live with. If the parents have not been able to decide about custody on their own, it is the judge who must ascertain what is in the best interest of the child and make the final decision – not the child.
The child will have to testify in court about why they believe that the parent they have expressed a preference for is in their best interest, and whether their preference is reasonable. As you might imagine, there are divorce cases where parents attempt to use the child as a pawn in their scheme to exact revenge from the other parent, so they coach the child and try to manipulate them into telling a story. But these schemes are rarely successful as judges are quite familiar with the tactics that warring parents will try to “win” in a child custody case. They know how to determine if the child has been coached to give certain answers.
The child’s preferences are not the only child custody factors that the judge will be considering when they make their final determination, so if you are a parent whose child wants to choose which parent they will live with, you might advise them to keep an open mind and to find a way to make the most of whatever decision the judge makes.
At LaFevor & Slaughter, we understand the emotional roller coaster that occurs with making decisions about child custody. We have more than 38 years of experience helping parents put their child’s need first and choose a path to divorce that minimizes the negative impacts on the child. To consult with a Knoxville child custody attorney, we invite you to call 865-637-6258. You can also schedule an appointment by completing our contact form