Do Teenagers' Preferences Matter in California Custody Cases?

Divorce proceedings involving children can be emotionally draining, and one critical aspect that courts consider is child custody. In California, the best interests of the child are a paramount concern when determining custody arrangements. A significant factor that may come into play is the child’s preference, especially when the child is a teenager. But do teenagers’ preferences matter in California custody cases? Let’s look into this important question.

Teenagers' Preferences in Custody Cases

As children grow and mature, their opinions and desires may change. Teenagers, in particular, often have well-developed views on where they want to live and who they want to spend time with. California law recognizes the evolving nature of children’s preferences. Teenagers’ preferences do matter in California custody cases, but their weight in the decision-making process can vary based on several factors:

  • Age and Maturity: Older teenagers (usually 14 or older) may have more influence over custody decisions because courts tend to believe they are more capable of making informed choices.
  • Reasons for Preferences: Courts will consider why the teenager prefers one parent’s home over the other. If the preference is based on legitimate concerns, such as safety, stability, or a strong parent-child relationship, it carries more weight.
  • Parental Influence: Courts also assess whether one parent is unduly influencing the teenager’s preference. If it’s determined that a parent is manipulating or coercing the child, the preference may be disregarded.
  • Consistency with Previous Arrangements: Courts consider whether the teenager’s preference aligns with the existing custody arrangement. If a change is in the child’s best interests, the court may be more inclined to modify custody orders.
  • Child’s Well-Being: Ultimately, the court will prioritize the child’s well-being over their preferences. If the teenager’s choice contradicts their best interests, the court may make a different decision.

Custody Evaluations in California Where Teenager Preferences are Involved

In cases where teenager preferences are a factor, the court may order a custody evaluation. This involves appointing a trained mental health professional, who is qualified as a child custody evaluator, to assess various aspects of the child’s life, including their emotional and psychological well-being, relationship with each parent, and their expressed preferences.  

Evaluator’s Recommendations

The custody evaluator will conduct interviews, assessments, and observations to form recommendations. These recommendations can carry significant weight in court proceedings. They aim to provide an objective assessment of what custody arrangement would best serve the child’s interests, which may align with or differ from the teenager’s preferences.  

Best Interests Standard  

California follows the “best interests of the child” standard when making custody determinations. The court’s primary objective is to ensure the child’s safety, stability, and overall well-being. While a teenager’s preference is considered, it is weighed against this standard, and the court may choose a custody arrangement that differs from the teenager’s wishes if it deems it to be in the child’s best interests.

Can a California Family Judge Call a Teenager to Court to Know Their Preference?

Yes, a California family judge can call a teenager to court to hear their preference in a custody case, particularly if the judge believes it is in the best interests of the child and the case warrants it. Moreover, judges often prefer to gather this information through alternative means, such as interviews with child custody evaluators or mediation sessions, to minimize the potential stress and discomfort for the teenager.

The Role of Mediation in Teen Custody Cases

Mediation can be particularly valuable in cases where a teenager’s preference is a key consideration. A qualified California child custody mediator can facilitate conversations between parents and teenagers, helping everyone involved understand each other’s perspectives and reach a mutually agreeable solution.

Let Our California Child Custody Attorneys Help Protect Your Teen’s Best Interests

In California, teenagers’ preferences can carry weight in custody cases, especially when they are older and their choices are in sync with their best interests. With that said, these preferences are not the sole determining factor. Werno Family Law Solutions is here to guide you on making the best decisions for your child. We will provide you a strong legal representation during negotiations and/or in the court to achieve the outcome you desire.

Our California child custody lawyers, led by Don Werno, a Certified Family Law Specialist and DRPA Trained Mediator with over two decades of experience, specialize in the intricate nuances of family law. Talk to us and gain the insights you need to protect your child’s best interests during this critical time. Contact Werno Family Law Solutions at 714-942-5932 or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.

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