In Pennsylvania, you become an adult when you are 18. Adults get to decide where they will live. For children, this decision is made by their parents. If the parents can’t agree, then the courts get involved. While this may sound harsh, children don’t get to decide on a lot of things in their lives – handling money, medical treatment, and many other things are decided by the adults in their lives.
Does a Child’s Opinion About Custody Matter?
Although the child doesn’t make the final decision, a child’s opinion about custody can be considered. A Judge (or a parent), would certainly want to know how the child feels about things before making a decision that will certainly affect the child. In Pennsylvania, a Judge in a custody case will usually interview a child in the Judge’s chambers (office), without either parent being present. The Judge will often tell the child that he or she will be making the decision – taking the pressure off the child. Ultimately, the Judge is supposed to do what is best for the child, which may or may not be exactly what the child wants.
How much weight the Judge gives the child’s opinion depends on a number of factors, including the child’s age, their maturity, the reasons given by the child for their preference, and the surrounding circumstances. In most cases, a Judge will not even talk to a child who is less than school age. At the other extreme, although it is difficult for a Judge (or anyone else) to get a teenager to do something they truly don’t want to do, even a 17-year-old might have to follow the Judge’s decision.
The truth is that most children want to live with both parents – even if they know that this is not possible.
How Custody Cases Are Decided in Pennsylvania
In addition to talking to the child, a Judge deciding a child custody case will want to hear from the parents, any other adults living with the child, and other persons whose testimony can enlighten the decision. The Court will consider a list of factors, all of which relate to what is in the best interests of the child.
In most cases, each parent will be represented by an attorney. Many courts also appoint an attorney to represent the interests of the children.