At What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent To Live with in Utah?

People fight about two things in divorce: kids and money.

And people spend a lot more time and money fighting about kids than they do fighting about money.

When parents fight about custody, they sometimes try to win by involving their kids.

They ask their kids where they want to live; and, when kids tell a parent what that parent wants to hear (that’s what 99% of kids do), the parent uses that as ammunition in their custody battle.

You see the problem with this scenario, right? Please, tell me you see the problem.

It’s unfair for parents to use their kids this way and make them choose between parents. Involving children in their parents’ fight in such a direct way ends up harming kids.

But What about Kids Who Really Know Where They Want to Live?

There are situations in which kids’ opinions need to be heard. This is especially true when kids are a bit older and more well-reasoned.

In these types of situations, a judge will often appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to talk with the children and conduct an independent investigation about what’s going on. If the kids are mature enough, the GAL will ask them what their preferences are and then relay those preferences to the judge.

Having those preferences heard through a GAL may happen at any age.

Utah Law about at what Age Judge’s Should Consider Children’s Preferences

There is specific language in Utah divorce law regarding when a court will give added weight to a child’s preference about where to live and what type of time to spend with each parent.

The language is found in Utah Code, section 30-3-10(1)(e):

The court may inquire of the children and take into consideration the children’s desires regarding future custody or parent-time schedules, but the expressed desires are not controlling and the court may determine the children’s custody or parent-time otherwise. The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor.

So, there is a line at fourteen where a judge will give a kid’s opinion added weight, but it will never be the single controlling factor in the judge’s decision.

Of course, all this assumes the judge even considers a child’s preference. Like it says in the law, the judge doesn’t have to (“[t]he court may inquire”).

The Practical Side of Things

Nothing I’m about to tell you is contained in any Utah law. This is about how things work out in real life, not in a book.

When a kid turns sixteen, he or she pretty much chooses where to live

At that age, kids have cars, they have friends, and they don’t like being told what to do. All of that adds up to freedom, and with that freedom comes the de facto freedom to choose with which parent they want to spend their time.

Is there a Bottom Line to the Question: At What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent To Live with in Utah?

If there’s a bottom line, it might be something like this: if a judge takes in to account a child’s preference about custody, it probably won’t be before that child is fourteen, unless there’s a guardian ad litem on the case; but, when the child hits sixteen, the child’s going to choose where to live, no matter what the judge says.

Published On: November 12th, 2017Categories: Child CustodyComments Off on At What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent To Live with in Utah?
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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