Michigan is one of many forward-thinking states that prefer parents to work together to reach their own custody agreements. Unfortunately, though the state grants parents this right, very few take advantage of it. Whether because of moral differences, emotions or personal issues, many parents rely on the courts to make the final custody determinations. If you and your child’s other parent cannot agree on a custody schedule, you may rely on the court’s guidance, in which case the judge presiding over your case will consider several factors before making a determination. One such factor may be your child’s preference.
Per the Michigan Custody Guideline, which cites the Child Custody Act, a family judge may consider the “reasonable preference of the child” if your child is of a sufficient age or maturity level to express his or her inclination. However, the mere expression of your child’s preference is just one of several factors the judge will consider. Moreover, “reasonable” is subject to interpretation.
One aspect the judge will consider when determining what is reasonable is the child’s age. As children grow older, they typically develop a better understanding of theirs and their parents’ situations. Though the state’s Child Custody Act does not specify an age at which a child may express his or her preference, a judge may be more inclined to consider the predilections of a 12-year-old than, say, an eight-year-old. However, a child in the state cannot legally decide where to live until he or she turns 18.
Another aspect the judge will consider is the child’s consistency over time. Does the child have a history of expressing his or her desire to live with Mom or Dad? Or does your child constantly go back-and-forth, one moment asking to live with Mom and the next requesting to live with Dad? The answer to this is a huge indicator of the child’s level of maturity and ability to express a preference that is in his or her best interests.