Amelia Cox – Family Law Practice Team Leader
The solicitors at Brazel Moore Lawyers are often asked “what age can a child decide where they live?”
As for many questions in family law, there is no one correct answer nor is there one magic age.
How does a Court decide?
Under our Family Law Act 1975, where there is a dispute regarding the living arrangements of a child, the Court must determine what is in the child’s best interest. The two primary considerations in deciding what is in the best interests of a child are:
- the benefit of a child having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and
- The need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm.
The views of a child and their opinion about where they wish live is just one of the 14 additional factors which the Court must consider when making orders about the living arrangements of children.
When considering the views of the child, age is just one factor that will be taken into account by the Court. The Court will also consider:
- The maturity and understanding the child has of the whole situation.
- Influence – have the parents or other adults influenced the child’s view?
- Views of their siblings on the same issues.
How does the Court find out the views of a child?
The Court does not require children to participate in proceedings or given evidence in front of their parents. Instead, a Court will often commission a “Family Report” to ascertain the views of the children. A “Family Report” involves parents and children privately meeting with a Court appointed expert family report writer such as a counsellor or psychologist. The family report writer will interview will conduct interviews and observations with each parent and the children. The family report writer will encourage the children to share their views in a manner tailored to their age, understanding and maturity.
The family report writer will ultimately prepare a report for the Court setting out their recommendations for the future parenting arrangements.
In some parenting matters and Independent Children’s Lawyer is appointed by the Court. The role of this lawyer is to independently represent the best interests of the children. As part of their role, the Independent Children’s Lawyer will meet with the children to understand their views. Ultimately, however, the Independent Children’s Lawyer will make their own assessment of what is in a child’s best interests.
So back to the question: at what age can a child decide where they live?
The answer is that at now age does a child get to choose where they live. The Court has the jurisdiction to determine parenting arrangements until a child reaches 18 years of age. The age of a child is just one factor the Court must consider when determining a child’s living arrangements.
In saying this, however, the older a child is, the greater their maturity and understanding, the less likely the Court will be to make parenting Orders contrary to the child’s view. The Court recognizes that older children “will vote with their feet” and live where they choose regardless of any Orders in place. In many cases alternatives to Court such as family counselling can have a greater impact in matters where older children are involved.
How can we help?
The friendly and skilled Family Law Team at Brazel Moore Lawyers are available to assist you to navigate and resolve your parenting disputes.
If you need advice regarding your family law matter, please contact Brazel Moore Lawyers on 4324 7699