4kidsMassachusetts : When can my children decide in whose home they want to live?

Often I am asked “can a child choose their parent after the divorce”?, so I thought this would be a great topic of discussion.  It is important to remember that each state handles this inquiry differently.  Understand that this particular blog is geared toward my Massachusetts readers.  Take heart New Hampshire readers – the blog geared toward the answer for you is just around the corner!

So, at what age does my child’s decision about residence matter?

The short answer is that your child can pick where he or she wants to live when they become an adult.  There is no magic age when the Court is going to suddenly pay attention to your children’s decisions about his/her residence.  So, the Court will never hear from your child directly on this issue.

Why won’t the Court listen to my child’s decision about residence?

Well, think about that.  During the time that the Court maintains authority over your children, they are just that – children.  Until such time as they become adults, and they are emancipated (self-supporting adults), your children are to be sheltered from this court process rather than having a vote toward the outcome.

Is there any way to have my child’s decision on residence heard in Court? 

If you want the Court to know your child’s input, the best way to present that is through a Guardian Ad Litem.  The Guardian Ad Litem is a neutral party who acts as an advocate for your child.  He or she essentially speaks on behalf of your child.  The Guardian does a thorough evaluation of the living situations by speaking to the parties, the child(ren) and anyone else that the Guardian deems appropriate to determine the living situation that is in the best interest of the child.  The Guardian can speak to the child’s decision about residence and inform the Court of his/her feelings.  Thus, the child is never present in Court and never is exposed to the arguments over where he or she should live.  S/he remains sheltered from the process.

In rare circumstances, often when there are not funds great enough to hire a Guardian Ad Litem, the Court may elect to hear input from a family therapist or from a member of the department of Family Services in the Court house.  Whether this happens is truly dependent on the Court and whether the Judge is open to such a plan.  If you find yourself in a position where you are unable to afford a Guardian Ad Litem, this is a possible consideration for the Court.

In short, there is never a time when the Court will hear from your child directly about his or her choice of residency.  In some circumstances, under the age of emancipation, the Court can hear from a Guardian Ad Litem and may hear from a therapist or family services officer.  The best bet is to make sure that you consult with counsel that is familiar with your forum (Judge) and help you to determine your best course of action.

As always, feel free to call me for a consultation based on a detailed discussion about your case.