What Age in Virginia Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With - Bourdon & Tortolero, PLLC

At What Age in Virginia Can a Child Which Parent to Live with?

April 15, 2024

Divorce is emotionally exhausting, especially when children are involved. Working out a child custody plan can be distressing, particularly when a child wants to live with one parent over another. Parents often wonder if their child is old enough to make this decision.

In Virginia, no magic age allows children to choose which parent to live with after a divorce. While a child’s preference can be a consideration, as long as the child is under 18, Virginia courts make the ultimate decision based on the child’s best interests. 

Under Virginia’s child custody law, courts can consider the child’s preference for which parent to live with if that preference is reasonable. Courts decide if a child’s preference is reasonable on a case-by-case basis, based on:

  • Age. Very young children are usually considered incapable of stating a well-reasoned preference. Teenagers (children aged 14 and above) are generally considered old enough and mature enough to express a preference. However, a child under 14 might be qualified to express a reasonable preference due to high intelligence and maturity.
  • Maturity. Courts will assess the child’s maturity level from the evidence and the testimony of the parents and other witnesses. Courts may also talk with the child outside the courtroom in the judge’s chambers without the parents present.
  • Intelligence. Courts will assess the child’s ability to appreciate and understand the given preference, along with the potential consequences of that preference.
  • Experience. Courts will look at the amount of time the child has spent in each home and the environment of each home. 
  • Basis for Preference. Courts also look to the reasoning behind the child’s preference. Remember that the child’s preference in a Virginia custody case must be reasonable. For example, a child may prefer to live with a parent who is overly permissive and allows the child to engage in harmful activities. If the court finds the preference unreasonable, it does not have to consider it.

Courts Consider a Child’s Best Interests in Custody Arrangements

While a child’s preference may influence the court’s final custody decision, it’s not the sole factor. Courts must make custody decisions based on the child’s best interests. Courts evaluate the following:

  • Age, mental, and physical condition of the child and parents
  • Existing relationship between the child and each parent, and the parent’s ability to meet the child’s emotional, intellectual, and physical needs
  • Child’s relationships with siblings, extended family, and peers
  • Role of each parent in the child’s upbringing
  • Ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child
  • History of family physical or sexual abuse

Contact a Family Law Attorney For Help

If you’re concerned about a Virginia child custody matter, the compassionate family law attorneys at Bourdon & Tortolero, PLLC, can help. We have the experience and skills to protect your and your child’s rights. Contact us or call our Virginia office at 703-420-5514 for a confidential consultation to learn how we can help.

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