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Separation and divorce can be very challenging for children, especially when it comes to custody arrangements. As children grow, they tend to express their wishes more clearly.

It is important to prioritize a child’s best interests in any family law case and make arrangements that promote healthy relationships with both parents. While a child’s desires are taken into account, other factors such as the location of the home, proximity to school, and work schedules must also be considered. Sometimes, these factors may not align with the child’s wishes.
This month’s blog looks at the legal considerations of custody arrangements and the need for balance, particularly when dealing with older children.

What age can a child decide where they wish to live?

Legally, a child can’t decide who they would like to live with until they are 16 years old. However, there is one exception to this rule – if a court order has been issued, the child may be required to live with a specific parent until they reach the age of 17 or 18.

What happens before this age?

It is possible for a child to communicate their wishes to a mediator, solicitor, or court regardless of their age, but generally speaking, a court will only take their wishes seriously if they are aged 12 or above.
If you and your partner cannot reach an agreement, the first step you should take as parents is to seek mediation with a qualified professional. If this attempt proves unsuccessful, you may need to take the matter to court to establish a resolution.

What happens if the decision has to go to court?

If you ever have to go to court due to a child custody issue, a judge will be responsible for making a Child Arrangement Order. This order will outline who the child should live with and the contact arrangements for the other parent. A court order will always be in the best interests of the child. They will consider the child’s wishes and base their decision on The Children Act 1989, which will assess their age, maturity, the reasoning behind their decision and the implications of their wishes, amongst other things.

When it comes to deciding the best arrangements for your family, it can be a difficult task. However, it’s essential to prioritise the needs of the child and ensure that they maintain a healthy relationship with both parents. We recommend that parents listen to their children and communicate with their ex-partner about their child’s wishes. Mediation and counselling can be highly effective in such situations, and an experienced family law solicitor can greatly help you achieve the right outcome for your family. Our team is always available to discuss your case further.