FAQ: When can a child choose which parent they want to live with?
It is a common misconception that there is a “magic age” when a child can decide which parent they will live with.
In both Washington and Oregon, a child can only choose which parent they’d like to live with when they turn 18 or are otherwise emancipated. Minor children are not considered capable of making such decisions for themselves and are not permitted to “choose” living with one parent over another. The child’s parents or guardians have the authority to make the decision for them. If the parents cannot agree, the Court has the power to determine the custody arrangement.
In some cases, a child’s opinion on the matter may be considered by the Court. This is usually done through a third-party evaluator and not through the child’s own testimony. Generally, the Court disapproves of involving minor children in decisions about custody.
For example, the Court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the “best interests” of the child in a case where custody is at issue. The GAL would typically conduct an investigation, including interviews with the children, and submit a report detailing their findings and recommendations. A GAL investigation includes a variety of factors and the child’s wishes regarding their living arrangements may or may not be a consideration in determining custody or a visitation schedule.