At What Age Can My Child Choose Who To Live With?

If you’re struggling to decide on child care arrangements following separation or divorce, please contact us at Aticus Law for free initial enquiry.

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By Victoria Richardson - 12th November 2021

Children can legally decide who to live with when they are 16 years old. This may be extended to 17 or 18 years old, if there’s a Child Arrangements Order in place.

Deciding where a child lives after separation

When a relationship breaks down, you’ll have to decide who is the ‘resident’ parent and who is the ‘non-resident’ parent. The resident parent is the person with whom the children live with most of the time.

The issue of which parent a child should live with can be an extremely difficult and emotional one. Ideally, the parents will make this decision amicably, with one parent agreeing to move out and the other parent becoming the main carer. The children will then spend time with the non-resident parent as is appropriate in the circumstances.

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Mediation

Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy. Where the question of child care arrangements becomes acrimonious, the parents may find that they need professional help in reaching a decision.

The first step is to make an appointment with a mediator who specialises in family law and breakdown. (Or for the case to be assessed as to whether mediation is suitable). A mediator can help you discuss a way forward and, if possible, to produce a parenting plan. This details exactly how the children will spend their time, and how the parents and children will all communicate together. The aim is to try to minimise conflict and work together.

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Child Arrangements Order

If mediation isn’t appropriate or is unsuccessful, then the only other option is to make a formal application to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. The court will investigate the circumstances, using Cafcass (the Children and Family Advisory Service) if necessary.

If the dispute is about who the children should live with, then Cafcass will speak with everyone involved and make recommendations to the court. Cafcass will talk to the children and ascertain their views in an age-appropriate matter. The older the child, the more influential their views will be. The child has to be at least 13 or 14 for their views to be considered strongly. Ultimately, the court will make a decision as to what is in the child’s best interests. It won’t take the child’s view over and above any other considerations stipulated in the Children Act.

In any event, asking a child to choose who they would like to live with is not an ideal solution. It can be detrimental to their emotional wellbeing, no matter what their age. They are being asked to decide who ‘they love best’ when both parents should have an equal role in their upbringing.

Speak to our Family Law solicitors

If you’re struggling to decide on child care arrangements following separation or divorce, please contact us at Aticus Law for free initial enquiry. We can discuss your options going forward.

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