Child custody is one of the most difficult issues to resolve during a divorce. Parents frequently disagree on what is best for their child, making this a highly contentious issue. At Wobber Law Group, a family law firm in Towson, MD, a question we get asked often is: at what age can a child refuse visitation in Maryland? This is a complicated question based on the legal process, but the answer lies in how the judge views the child’s best interest.
HOW DO PREFERENCES OF A CHILD AFFECT CHILD CUSTODY?
The courts must decide how parental responsibilities will be divided, including where the child will live. The court distinguishes between two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody confers the right on a parent to make decisions on behalf of their child, including medical and educational choices. Physical custody refers to the location of the child.
When a judge determines physical and legal custody, he or she will consider a number of factors to determine what is in the child’s best interest. Among these variables are the child’s preferences, as well as the following:
- The parenting abilities of each parent
- The environment in which each parent lives
- Each parent’s relationship with the child
- Age, gender, and health of the child
- Each parent’s willingness to share custody
- Each parent’s employment and financial security
- Capacity of parents to collaborate
- Parents’ ages and the number of children they have together
Is it Possible for a Child Under the Age of 16 to Determine Their Custodial Parent?
Before a judge considers the child’s maturity and age, he or she will determine whether the child’s preferences should be considered during a custody hearing. Asking a child to choose his or her custodial parent places an enormous amount of pressure on him or her, which is why a judge is hesitant to consider a child’s preferences if the child is under the age of 16.
Rather than speaking directly to the child, the judge may request the appointment of an attorney or a private custody evaluator. This enables children to express their preferences and then present them to the court.
Is it Required for a Child to Testify in Court?
If it is appropriate, the child may testify in court alongside their parents. Additionally, the child may testify in court absent their judge or speak with the judge outside of the courtroom. While the judge will listen to the child, he or she is required to act in the child’s best interest. However, the child’s opinion does factor into this determination. The judge has discretion over whether a child testifies under oath in the courtroom or in the judge’s chambers.
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