Can my child decide who they want to live with?

4. Go to court

You and your partner might still not be able to agree on , , or whether your child's wishes should be followed, even with the help of a family law professional. If this is your situation, one of you will have to start a family law court case. Decision-making responsibility and parenting time used to be called and .

Going to court can be a complicated process and it can take a lot of time. It can be stressful and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary to decide your issues. This family law court process flowchart explains each step in a family law court case.

Judges usually assume it's better for a child to have a relationship with all their parents after they separate or . They make decisions using the family law rules and laws.

Judges look at all the evidence and decide decision-making responsibility and parenting time using a legal test called the . There is no rule that says each parent must get to spend equal time with a child.

Judges generally don't let children testify in court because they know this can be a scary experience for a child. It can also be very difficult for a child, especially if they are forced to testify against one parent.

If the judge needs the testimony of the child or evidence of the child's views and wishes to help them decide, the judge can:

  • Ask the to get involved and prepare an assessment.
  • Ask to speak to the child alone in their office.
  • Ask the child to meet with a lawyer or social worker who prepares a voice of the child report, if the child is over the age of 7. This report gives information about what the child thinks about things like where they should live, go to school, and who they'd like to spend time with. It's different from an assessment because it does not give the professional's opinion on what is best for the child.

You can talk to a lawyer who can help you understand what the law says about decision-making arrangements and parenting time and your child's rights.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers provide “unbundled” or “limited scope” services. This means you pay them to help you with part of your case.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

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