Child custody disputes are often contentious and complicated. Each parent may have strong opinions about the role they should have in the care and upbringing of their child. Children may have their own wishes as well. A family court judge must balance these preferences based on what is in the best interests of the children.

Under Connecticut law, a family court judge deciding a custody case must take into account multiple factors. Among these factors are any relevant and material information obtained from the child as well as the child’s informed preferences. What is an “informed” preference is up to the judge to decide, but it generally means that the child is of sufficient age and maturity to be capable of forming an intelligent reason for wanting to live with one parent or the other.

Age alone is not the sole criterion for finding a preference informed. Children mature at varying rates so judges also evaluate the child’s decision-making capacity. In general, the older the child, the more weight is given to his or her preferences. Most courts will give consideration to the preferences of a child starting at about 12 years of age, but only to the extent the child appears to be expressing thought-out reasons and not simply reacting emotionally.

There are several ways for a court to find out a child’s preferences and the basis for them. Judges rarely make children testify in open court, which may be difficult, stressful and traumatic. A judge usually will interview a child in a more private setting, such as the judge’s chambers. This also serves to protect the child from being manipulated or unduly influenced by a parent and to make the child more comfortable in expressing complete and honest opinions.

As noted above, the child’s preferences are among many factors courts consider in custody cases. Others include:

  • Each parent’s willingness to assume custodial responsibilities
  • Each parent’s ability to adequately provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs
  • The stability of the child’s home life
  • The child’s developmental needs at home and in school
  • Living arrangements that encourage healthy relationships with each parent and with siblings and other close family members

These factors and any others considered are not weighed equally. Judges have wide discretion in custody determinations. If you are involved in a such a dispute, you should have a highly experienced and skilled child custody attorney to best protect your rights and those of your child.

The O’Neil Law Firm in Hartford, Connecticut is experienced in providing compassionate assistance in child custody cases. Please contact us online or call 866-418-7593 to set up a free initial consultation.