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Can children choose their living arrangements after divorce?

On Behalf of | Dec 5, 2023 | Family Law

In North Carolina, the question of whether children can decide which parent they want to live with is a complex matter that legal statutes govern. The state places a significant emphasis on the best interests of the child.

While the court can consider children’s preferences, the ultimate decision lies with the parents if they can agree between themselves with court approval, or with the court if the parents cannot agree.

Best interests standard

North Carolina follows the “best interests of the child” standard when determining custody arrangements. This legal doctrine prioritizes the well-being and happiness of the child above all else. The court evaluates various factors, such as children’s age, physical and mental health, relationships with both parents and their adjustment to their community and school.

Consideration of the child’s preference

While North Carolina courts do take the child’s preferences into account, there is not a specific age at which the child’s choice becomes the sole determining factor. Instead, the court assesses the child’s maturity level and ability to express a reasoned opinion. Older children are more likely to have the court assign more weight to their preferences, especially if they can articulate well-reasoned justifications.

Guardian ad litem and custody evaluations

To ensure a comprehensive understanding of the child’s situation, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem, an independent advocate for the child’s best interests. Additionally, custody evaluations may be necessary, involving interviews with the child, parents and relevant individuals in the child’s life. These evaluations provide the court with valuable insights into the child’s relationships and living environments.

Modification of custody orders

In North Carolina, about 21.4% of the population is younger than 18 years. A child’s needs can change greatly from one year to the next and over the years. For example, children who were 3 years old when their parents divorced may have vastly different needs at age 13.

Custody arrangements are not permanent. As circumstances change, either parent can petition the court for a modification of the custody order. If a child’s preferences evolve or if there are significant changes in the parents’ lives, the court may revisit and adjust the custody arrangement accordingly.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a stable and nurturing environment that fosters the child’s growth and happiness.