A child’s age is a major consideration for judges as they determine what sort of custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. When parents litigate custody, therefore, they often have several questions pertaining to the child’s age.
For instance, at what age does a child have a say in custody? And does custody end at 18, or does some other factor come into play? Attorney J. Michael Turner, Jr. and Turner Family Law are here to guide you each step of the way in your child custody case.
What Age Does a Child Have a Say in Who They Live With?
This question frequently arises when parents of older children are either seeking to establish a child custody order or to modify a prior one. As a child ages, he or she may express a preference as to which parent should have greater parenting time.
It is worth noting, first, that the prevailing standard in all South Carolina child custody cases is the best interests of the child. In determining what those interests are, and therefore what custody will look like, the law lists several factors that a judge must consider. One of those factors is the child’s “reasonable preference for custody.”
As to how important this factor is, the law expressly states, “The court shall place weight upon the preference based upon the child’s age, experience, maturity, judgment, and ability to express a preference.”
But it must be emphasized that this preference alone will not decide the final outcome of a child custody matter. Because the best interests standard takes priority in every custody case, other factors may outweigh the wishes of children, even into their middle teen years.
With that in mind, the case law seems to indicate that there are three unofficial age categories that may affect (but not solely determine) what a judge decides:
Under age 12
A judge is not likely to let the child’s preferences have much if any weight in determining custody. There are no known cases where a judge has done so. The concern for this age group is that the child is too immature and far too susceptible to a parent’s manipulation.
Ages 12 to 14
Some courts will allow a child as young as 12 to express a preference, while others will do so around ages 13 or 14. A strong deciding factor for this age range is the child’s maturity and experience, which will vary. It is possible, based on the specific circumstances of a case, for a court to decide that a 12-year-old is mature enough to have a significant say.
Over age 14
Once a child reaches age 14, the judge is far more likely to give great consideration to what the child wants. But as mentioned above, even at this age, the child’s preference is still not an absolute deciding factor. A teenager may want to live with his father, for instance, but there may be evidence that the father has a drug abuse problem which could harm the child.
Ultimately, when asking at what age does a child have a say in custody, you will want to bear in mind what is truly in the best interests of the child. While the child’s age, maturity, and preferences are certainly important, the judge is more interested in the overall picture of what custody should look like, based on consideration of all statutory factors (and any others that are relevant).
Talk to your attorney about how your child’s age and wishes could affect the outcome of your custody matter.
Does Custody Have a Hard Age Limit?
Another common question that families ask is whether there is a child custody age limit. The law considers a child to be a person under age 18. But does custody end at 18 in every case?
In the eyes of the law, a child becomes an adult once he or she turns 18. There are rare cases, however, in which a child may be emancipated prior to age 18. Whether by becoming a legal adult or by being emancipated, the child is at that point free of the court’s jurisdiction with respect to custody matters.
It should be noted that this same rule does not necessarily apply to child support cases. A parent may be required to keep paying child support for an 18-year-old if he or she is still enrolled in and attending high school. But this duty ends either once the 18-year-old child graduates high school or at the end of the school year after the child turns 19.
Contact Us to Answer Your Child Custody Questions
There are many factors a judge will look at when deciding custody disputes, including motions to modify pre-existing orders. Age and related matters such as the child’s preferences and maturity will be examined along with numerous other considerations that affect the best interests of the child. If you have a pending child custody matter, our firm is ready to get to work advocating for your rights. Contact us at Turner Family Law for a consultation today.