At what age can my child decide who they want to live with?

At Perth Family Lawyers our solicitors are often asked by clients “at what age can their children decide which parent they wish to live with?”.  There is no clear-cut answer to this question. The legislation, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), does not prescribe a particular age which gives children autonomy to make decisions with regards to where they want to live and how much time they want to spend with the other parent.

When the Family Court is asked to determine which parent a child is to live with, the Judicial Officer must consider 16 different factors and take each into account as applicable. Your child’s wishes (or views) are just one of these considerations and generally not the most important one. The weight given to any views expressed by your Child will also be dependent on a particular child’s maturity or level of understanding. The Court is primarily required to consider the benefits of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents and the need to protect the child from harm.

Sometimes clients provide instructions that they feel the other parent is attempting to ‘bribe’ a child to persuade them to want to live with them by showering them with gifts, or not imposing normal parental boundaries (for example, allowing them privileges the other parent won’t – such as giving them a mobile phone at a young age, or allowing them to have extensive screen time, or a late bedtime).  Our advice is to continue parenting your children as normal.  During a family breakdown, what your children require most is stability and consistency, and the same boundaries to which they are accustomed. 

The court will weigh different factors when deciding the child’s best interest as to their place of residence, such as:

  1. The child’s level of maturity;
  2. The child’s insight;
  3. The child’s understanding of the situation;
  4. Whether the child’s wishes are well informed;
  5. Whether the child has been influenced by their parents when deciding where to live, etc.

In certain situations, the Court will order an independent assessment be undertaken and provided to the Court in relation to the family and the child.  This can involve either a Family Consultant or a Single Expert Witness being appointed, to meet with your child and the parents, and provide a report to the Family Court as to the child’s understanding of the circumstances (considering the above listed factors) and recommendations.

In some cases, the court will appoint an Independent Children’s Lawyers for the purpose of providing an independent view as to the child’s best interests. What is in a child’s best interests, however, can sometimes be at odds with what their wishes may be.

Our solicitors provide genuine legal advice and Perth Family Lawyers can assist you with deciding what would be the best path for you to choose in the event that you believe that your child is being influenced by the other parent to live with them.

If your child is expressing a wish to vary their living arrangements, we strongly recommend you immediately obtain independent legal advice from one of our experienced family lawyers who can genuinely guide you to the right decisions to be made.  You should not act unilaterally and retain a child in breach of a longstanding parenting arrangement without first seeking advice.  Acting unilaterally regarding parenting matters can have a devastating long-term impact on your case before the Family Court. 

We urge you to seek legal advice from an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible. We are here to provide you with professional and efficient family law advice, and to negotiate your parenting arrangements on your behalf, or we can go to Court to represent you in the Family Court proceedings if needed.  

Balancing the child’s best interests with your own wishes can be challenging for some parents, and parenting matters require a level of experience and sensitivity to ensure your post-separation parenting relationship with the other parent is prioritised for your children’s sake.  The last thing any child needs is their parents being in entrenched conflict with each other.

If you have concerns with regards to your child’s living arrangements or know someone who does, call us at Perth Family Lawyers for genuine legal advice on (08) 9325 8675, today.