It's no secret that divorce is usually difficult for children, particularly older teens. Youths around 16, 17, and 18 are just beginning to gain independence and make their own choices. Divorce, and their lack of control over it, can leave them feeling frustrated and helpless. Many Pennsylvania teens wonder whether they'll be allowed to have a voice in the custody proceeding or permitted to choose the parent with whom they want to live. Here's what divorcing parents and teens need to know about the Pennsylvania custody process.
Minor Teens May Express Custodial Preference
In Pennsylvania, minor teens and children cannot choose the parent they want to live with nor make any decision regarding custody. Only the parents or the court have the authority to make that decision. However, a judge will usually listen to a child's feelings and opinions, regardless of age, and consider their view in determining custody.
Minors who the court has deemed mature enough to testify about their custodial preference will usually do so in an informal setting, such as in the judge's chambers. The parents' attorneys will be present and may ask the teen questions, which will go on the record. The court makes every effort to ensure the child's comfort and safety.
The weight the court will give to the minor's opinion depends on the child's age, maturity, intelligence, and the reasons given for the preference. Judges will likely give strong consideration to the wishes of older teens who can express their preferences rationally and who have a reasonable basis for their choice. Still, preference will not be the sole factor in reaching a final decision.
When making a custody determination, Pennsylvania judges examine numerous factors that take into account each parent's ability to care for the teen's physical and emotional well-being. These factors include:
- whether the parent has abused the teen
- whether the parent has any history of substance abuse
- whether the parent is likely to attend to the teen's daily physical, emotional, or developmental needs
- whether the parent is able to provide the teen with a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship and environment
- whether the parent is willing and able to cooperate with the co-parent
- the amount of interaction and contact the teen has with each parent
- the responsibilities the parent assumes for the teen's life and care
- the teen's need for stability and continuity in terms of family life, community, and education.
- how close the parents live to one another.
If all factors are equal and the court finds that both parents can safely and capably care for their teen, the court will likely give substantial weight to the teen's preference.
Majority-age Teens Can Choose for Themselves
At age 18, a teen is a legal adult. Neither their parents nor the court cannot order them to live with one parent or another.
Consult an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
If you have an older teen with a strong custodial preference, speak to an experienced family lawyer about how to ensure that your teen's voice is heard and considered. Contact the skilled Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento. He has helped numerous families develop satisfactory custody plans. He wants to help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.