BURKHALTER LAW PLLC
MEDIATION, ARBITRATION, DISPUTE RESOLUTION
DIVORCE, CHILD CUSTODY, FAMILY LAW
S. Scott Burkhalter, Lawyer
THE CHILD'S DECISION....NO
The following is a direct question from a current client [with redactions to preserve privacy]: “Is it true that a child at the age of 12 can tell a Judge where they want to live? I am freaking out because I’m afraid the [child] wants to stay at [his/her] school, that dumb *** will talk [him/her] into living with him and that she could still stay at her school. Over my dead body!”
The short answer is “no”.
“No”, however, does not mean a child will not have his or her voice heard. Under Washington State law, the Court may consider “the wishes of a child who is of sufficient maturity to express his/her preference”. Thus, maturity is the key, although I have yet to hear (but one), a Judge who will actually take testimony from a child. As to the one Judge who did, take testimony, she was quick to then say, “never again.”
With the previous said, typically a child may express his/her preference through a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or Parenting Evaluator (PE) appointed by the court. The child’s preference, however, is just a factor among many.
In light of the foregoing, the Courts typically do not want to include a minor in a custody dispute, regardless of their age (i.e., under 18 years old).