Deciding how to split up custody is one of the hardest things that an Indiana family law judge has to do in a divorce. State law requires that the judge put the child’s best interest first. In order to uphold those interests, a judge has to spend some time learning about the family circumstances.
The judge may look at the dynamic the child has with each parent, their sibling relationships and any special needs they have. In some cases, the child might have a strong personal preference about which parent they live with. Will your child’s wishes have much of an effect on the custody determination in your divorce?
Your child’s age and maturity level affect their influence
Different children and teenagers mature at different rates. Some 16-year-old teens are very responsible. Others the same age may ask to live with the parent who doesn’t enforce the curfew because they want to stay out late at night.
Your child doesn’t have to testify, either. They can speak with a judge in their chambers. A judge will have to consider each child’s temperament and overall maturity when deciding how much weight to give their personal preference.
Claims of abuse and neglect by children can affect custody decisions
If a child informs a judge or other court personnel that the reason for their custody preference is abuse or chronic neglect by one of their parents, that claim could have a strong impact on the outcome of the court case.
Provided that there is some amount of evidence substantiating those allegations, a judge may limit or even end a parent’s custody or visitation rights because of abuse or neglect. Encouraging your child to speak up for themselves is a good idea, but be careful not to let them think that misrepresenting the situation would be beneficial.
If the judge thinks you coached the children or made them think bad things about the other parent, they might consider that an attempt at parental alienation. Judges usually frown on alienation efforts and may give your ex more parenting time than you if they think you will use the children as a weapon or cut your ex off from the kids.