BACK TO BLOG May 26, 2019

At what age can a child decide which parent to live with in Texas?

Custody matters can be particularly hard on children. When kids are involved, the court will try to do what is in the best interests of the child. If your case requires a Tyler family law attorney, it helps to know what Smith County judges will do when faced with these types of cases.

There are way too many factors that are considered when determining “best interests of the child.” But it is not uncommon for a child to start saying that he or she wants to live with one of the parents on a primary basis.

So, do the courts care?

Many people who have come into our Tyler law office have a belief that a child can “pick” which parent they want to live with at age 12. This is wrong. This incorrect belief causes many problems and a lot of litigation. It is also quite common for one parent to start to pressure, coerce, or even bribe the child so that the child will pick them.

Texas law does allow for a child over the age of 12 to tell the judge what their preferences are with regard to residency and primary conservatorship. The judge, however, is not required to grant the child’s wish. A judge is obligated to consider all of the circumstances—things such as age of the child, siblings, location of the parents, schooling, extra-curricular activities, among many others.

Can the Judge ask a child where they want to live?

If there is an issue of which parent should be awarded primary conservatorship, the judge can conduct a private interview with the child. This interview is typically conducted in the judge’s “chambers” (the judge’s office). The judge can discuss with the child:

  1. the child’s desires with regard to residency and primary conservatorship,
  2. visitation, or
  3. any other issues which are involved in the underlying custody case.

Is it mandatory for a child to be interviewed by the judge?

If the child is over the age of 12, and one parents requests that the judge interview the child, the interview is mandatory.

If the child is under the age of 12, an interview with the child is discretionary with the court. This means that the judge does not have to do the interview.

In some circumstances, a judge may also appoint an amicus attorney to the case. This amicus attorney’s sole function is to assist the court in determining the best interests of the child. The Amicus attorney conducts interviews of the child as well as other people involved in the child’s life.
Amicus attorneys can significantly increase the costs of a case. And many times, when the amicus attorney makes a decision, at least one of the parents ends up disappointed.

Things to Remember Before An Interview:

Who can be present: The judge may allow other people to be in the room during the interview. But, the judge is not obligated to do so. Basically, it is up to the judge who is present.

Is the interview recorded? If the child is over the age of 12, the Court is required to make a transcript of the interview if one of the parents requests.

Kids are Kids: If kids could eat cake for breakfast, they would probably choose to do so. Kids can change their minds. Kids can say the “darndest” things. Plus, a judge is not bound solely by what a child says. And, a good judge can see when a child is being “coached”. If you are resting your case primarily on the testimony of a child, you are taking a big risk.

Interviews are Extremely Stressful: When adults are required to give testimony in a trial or a deposition, many can crack under the pressure. There is heavy anxiety. There is extreme stress. Now imagine putting a child through this.

Kids are not pawns in a custody case: Many judges do not want parents putting their children through the stress of litigation and they do not want to see kids being used by one parent against the other. This is particularly the case with Tyler family courts. A good judge can see through practiced language or can tell when a kid is repeating something a parent says.

Before asking a Tyler family law judge to interview your child, consider the effects that will have your child and your case. Hiring a Tyler custody lawyer is the best way to assure that you have the best chances for success.