When Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With?

By Karen Pritchard

Principal Associate

If parents cannot agree which of them a child should live with, how much time the child should spend with the other parent, or any other issue related to a child, it may be that the court has to decide.

One of the factors that the court is required to take into account is the child’s wishes and feelings, but those wishes and feelings must be considered in light of the child’s age and understanding. The views of an infant, if possible to gauge, will not therefore carry any weight, and the court will make an order taking into account other factors.

If the court considers that the child may be of an age or have an understanding where their views should be taken into account, the court is likely to order Cafcass to prepare a report which will include consideration of the child’s views, age and understanding.

Cafcass will need to carefully consider whether and how to speak to a child about their wishes and feelings. For some children, it may be appropriate to speak to them frankly and directly about the situation. Older children might be asked to list the things and people that are important to them. For younger or less mature children, Cafcass may ask the child to convey their views in a drawing, or show them cards with faces showing different emotions and ask them to put them next to photographs/drawings of people in their lives.

Where a parent has raised concerns that a child’s views have been influenced by the other parent, Cafcass will endeavour to determine if that is the case, and if so, whether that has any bearing on the weight that should be given to the child’s wishes and feelings. It may be that an expert child psychologist needs to be appointed to fully determine the extent and effect of parental influence.

There have been some recent cases where judges have written a letter to the child concerned after a decision has been made about them, to explain, in child-friendly terms, the reasons for their decision and the judge’s hopes for the child’s future. It is unlikely that this will happen in most cases, but it does indicate that the court is becoming more child-centric.

If you would like to discuss this article further, please contact our Family Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.