Child custody decisions in New Jersey courts are based on what is in the best interests of the child. This means if you and your co-parent cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the court examines a set of factors and orders an arrangement they believe is in your child’s best interest.
One of these factors is the child’s wishes. Sometimes parents interpret this to mean that their child can choose which parent they want to live with.
New Jersey has several custody factors that go into making decisions
However, it is important to remember that the child’s wishes are one of several factors that a court examines. Each factor is given a different amount of weight.
Therefore, although your child might clearly state a desire to live with you, other factors might show that is not in their best interest.
For example, a home environment that provides stability and routine is another factor used in child custody decisions. A child may say they want to live with their father, and upon further investigation, evidence may show that there are no rules surrounding homework or bedtime at the father’s home.
In this case, the court could conclude that the reason the child wants to live with their father is because the lack of rules makes the home more fun. Nevertheless, this type of home environment generally does not provide stability and routine and the court would give this factor more weight than the child’s preferences.
Another common misconception is that a child can choose which parent they want to live with after they reach a certain age.
How your child’s age impacts a custody decision
What is true is that the older a child is, the more seriously a judge is likely to take their preference of living arrangements.
There is no set age at which a child can simply choose. You may hear that the age is around age 14, and although this is generally an age where a child’s wishes might be given more weight, it remains only one factor out of many.
There is also no set age that a judge must listen to what the child wants. In addition to age, the child’s maturity is considered, as well as any surrounding circumstances, such as if there is evidence that one parent was coaching the child on what to say.
You should never attempt to influence your child when it comes to which parent they want to live with. You could end up losing the custody you already have if a judge determines you have improperly influenced your child.
Evidence that you have threatened or coerced your child into saying they want something they don’t could result in an accusation of parental alienation syndrome. This is an extremely difficult accusation to overcome.
Overall, the answer is no, your child can generally not decide where they want to live. Although your child may express a sincere desire to live with only one parent and provide valid reasons, that alone is usually not enough to obtain a custody decision in your favor.