When it comes to custody arrangements, parents often ask: does the child have a say at all in the custody decisions and schedule?

The answer is sometimes yes, but mostly no. Here are a few answers to common questions from parents regarding the role of a child’s preference. The answers are not always easy, but parents should know all the facts before going into the situation.

If a Child Hates the Custody Schedule, Must You Force Compliance?

It’s not always easy obeying authority, for the parent or the child. But a court order must be obeyed. If the court orders your child to spend time with your ex, and you decide not to comply because your child doesn’t wish to go, the court can use the full force of the law to make sure you follow the order. That means cops can show up at your door and you could end up in jail for lack of compliance.

Keep in mind that children are highly intelligent and capable of manipulating the parents on both sides of a divorce. They may say they don’t want to spend time with the father when spending time with the mother, and might say the opposite when staying with the father. Sometimes they may throw a fit at one moment, and be fine the next.

The court views these behaviors as something that must be managed by the parents. Whether the parent or the child approves of the court order is irrelevant.

Can the Court be Compelled to Listen to the Opinion of the Child?

Yes, they can, but there are certain rules in place. In California, if the child is fourteen years or older, then the court is required to listen to his or her opinion. However, they are not required to follow it—they only need to provide a hearing for the child to express their concerns.

For children younger than fourteen years of age, the court can make an exception to hear their opinion, but that is entirely up to the judge in the case.

What if the Child is Having a Difficult Time Psychologically Adjusting to Spending Time with the Other Parent?

The aftermath of a divorce is not easy on anyone, and it arguably hits kids the hardest. So it is understandable if a child is having a rough time emotionally coping with the situation.

Sometimes a child may express hatred or any other kind of extreme dislike of one of the parents and refuse to spend time with them. When this happens, it is very easy for one or both parents to start bad-mouthing the other and make the situation even worse.

My suggestion is to instead arrange therapy with a professional for the child to deal with their feelings. Ex-spouses should never bad-mouth one another in front of the child. There is nothing to gain from that, and it can only negatively impact the child.

Want to Know More About the Role of Children’s Opinions in Custody Battles?

Every child is unique, as is every custody situation. If you’d like to know more about the role your child might play in a custody decision, contact Park Family Law. Whether you need an experienced mediator to amicably and efficiently settle your case or an aggressive litigator to get you the best result in court, Park Family Law can assist you every step of the way.