Determining a Child’s Ability to Influence Custody Decisions

Child Parental Preference Influence in Custody Decision

One of the challenging aspects of family law is determining custody arrangements when parents separate or divorce. In some cases, the child’s parental preference regarding which parent they want to live with can play a significant role. However, the question of when a child is old enough to make such decisions is complex and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In New Hampshire, the courts consider several factors, including the child’s age, maturity, and ability to understand the consequences of their choice.

The Best Interests of the Child Standard

In custody matters, the primary concern for the court is always the best interests of the child. New Hampshire, like many other states, follows this standard. The court aims to determine what arrangement will serve the child’s overall well-being, taking into account their physical, emotional, and educational needs. While the child’s preference is a factor, it is not the sole determinant.

Mature Minor

According to New Hampshire law:

If the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that a minor child is of sufficient maturity to make a sound judgment, the court may give substantial weight to the preference of the mature minor child as to the determination of parental rights and responsibilities. Under these circumstances, the court shall also give due consideration to other factors which may have affected the minor child’s preference, including whether the minor child’s preference was based on undesirable or improper influences.

What this means is that, before a judge can give serious consideration to the preferences of a child, the judge must determine that the child is mature enough to have sound judgment.

Age and Maturity Factors

New Hampshire does not specify a particular age at which a child’s preference becomes a determining factor in custody decisions. Instead, the court considers the child’s maturity level and ability to understand the implications of their choice. Some key factors include:

  1. Age and Development: Younger children may struggle to comprehend the complexities of custody decisions and may be more influenced by immediate circumstances. Older children, typically teenagers, tend to have a better understanding of the situation and the potential impact of their choice.
  2. Emotional and Intellectual Maturity: The child’s emotional and intellectual maturity to assess their capacity to express a well-reasoned preference. This includes their ability to articulate their thoughts, consider the consequences of their decision, and differentiate between their genuine desires and external influences.
  3. Stability and Consistency: The court considers the child’s relationship with each parent, their history of caregiving, and the stability and consistency provided by each parent. A child’s preference may carry more weight if it aligns with a long-standing positive relationship or if it demonstrates a desire for stability and continuity.
  4. Influence and Manipulation: The court scrutinizes the circumstances surrounding the child’s expressed preference to ensure it is free from manipulation or undue influence. If there are indications that a parent has influenced the child’s decision through coercion or manipulation, the court may disregard the preference.

Additional Factors Considered by the Court

While the child’s preference is important, the court also considers other relevant factors to make a custody determination in the best interests of the child. These may include:

  1. Parental Fitness: The court evaluates each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs, including their capacity to provide a safe and nurturing environment, emotional support, and stability.
  2. Parent-Child Relationship: The strength and quality of the child’s relationship with each parent are crucial factors. The court assesses the level of involvement, bonding, and communication between the child and each parent.
  3. Sibling Relationships: If the child has siblings, the court may consider the importance of maintaining sibling relationships when determining custody arrangements.
  4. Physical and Mental Health: The physical and mental health of the child, as well as the parents, can influence custody decisions. The court considers the ability of each parent to meet the child’s health-related needs.

In New Hampshire, there is no specific age at which a child’s preference becomes determinative in custody decisions. The court considers a variety of factors, including the child’s age, maturity level, and ability to understand the consequences of their choice. The best interests of the child always guide the court’s decisions, with the child’s preference serving as one factor among many. It is crucial to work with an experienced family law attorney in New Hampshire who can navigate the complexities of custody proceedings, understand the specific factors considered by the court, and advocate for the best outcome for you and your child.

Our experienced family law legal team can help you navigate the family law courts. We’ll help you determine the best course of action to achieve the most favorable outcome for your family.


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