What is the legal age that a child can choose which parent to live with in Tennessee?


What is the legal age that a child can choose which parent to live with in Tennessee?

What is the legal age that a child can choose which parent to live with in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the child must be at least 12 years old. That would be the legal age at which the child could express a preference of a parent to live with over the other. Children should never be pressured to take sides or choose the more loved (or permissive) parent instead of the other parent (or disciplinarian). This is about listening to a child who is mature enough to provide an opinion, nothing more.

What age in Tennessee can a child decide which parent to live with?

In making a child custody determination, 12 is the minimum age at which the child may express a preference to the court regarding the parent with whom that child prefers to reside. Furthermore, the child must express a reasonable preference. What falls into the category of “reasonable preference” is left for the judge to decide based upon the facts and circumstances of the family law case. Every custody dispute, like every child, is unique and must be decided on its own merits.

Furthermore, there is a distinct difference between the judge hearing the child’s preference and the child deciding which parent he or she will reside with most of the time. The law does allow the former when certain statutory criteria are met. See T.C.A. § 36-6-106(a)(13). But the law does not permit the latter under any circumstances. In Tennessee divorce, children do not decide with finality the parent they will live with. Although parents could agree to a proposed parenting plan in keeping with the child’s wishes, that final determination is up to the judge.

One of many child custody factors instructs the court to consider the reasonable preference of a child 12 years of age or older. This is required of the court in determining the best interests of the child. The statute also instructs the court to give greater weight, normally, to the preferences of a child who is older. Most judges will publicly say the preference of a child is much more important at age 16 and 17 than at age 12 or 13. No two children are alike, but on average an older child will be more mature and more capable of assessing the situation and making a reasoned conclusion. While the 12-year-old child’s preference (or older child’s preference) is a factor the court must consider, the younger the boy or girl is, the less important the courts consider the child’s preference to be when deciding custody.

In a divorce where spouses dispute custody, the time will arrive for the court to determine with finality which parent shall have custody or whether the parents shall have joint custody. The court will determine which parent will be the primary residential parent (PRP) with whom the child resides most of the time and which parent shall be the alternate residential parent (ARP) with scheduled parenting time access.

With regard to children under age 12, the court has discretion to hear the child’s parental preference, but is not required to do so. Because the legal age a child can choose which parent to live with is only one factor the judge considers, it is never conclusive evidence or determinative of the outcome.

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Memphis divorce attorney and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. JD, CPA founded the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. The firm practices divorce and family law only representing clients living in Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Eads, Shelby Co., Fayette Co. Tipton Co., and the surrounding west Tennessee area. For more information, see our Meet the Team page.

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