Custody Cases Involving Adolescents

Marlon Dias

Marlon Dias

The testimony of adolescents in Child Custody cases in which they are a party is weighed heavily by the Courts and Family Court services staff. Children are often interviewed as part of the custody process. These interviews may be with mediators, recommending counselors, custody evaluators, minors’ counsel or the hearing officer. California Rule of Court 5.250 states that minors over the age of 14 shall be allowed to speak directly to the bench in order to provide input as to their wishes in a custody matter.
In my experience the wishes of adolescents is given considerable weight in determining the case outcome. Regrettably parents who are involved in high conflict custody cases, i.e. the majority of custody cases, often tell their latency age children (10-13) “when you’re14 you’ll get to decide where you live”. This may sound ridiculous to the uninitiated but for those of us in the field this statement is accurate more often than not.
Children do not legally have the right to determine which parent they will primarily reside with until they reach the age of majority, usually 18, but it’s hard to argue with the de facto realities in these cases. This can be extremely frustrating to parents who believe that their teen is choosing to live with the more lenient or generous parent. These parents feel strongly that the court should see through the pressure and bribery often brought to bear by the parent lobbying for primary custody.
Often the teen’s request to change primary residences is caused by a rift with the other parent. One explanation for acceding to the desires of the teen by the court is a primary clinical fact. Simply stated, if you force a child to live somewhere they don’t want to live, even if you feel it’s for their own good, it can further deepen the rift between the teen and the rejected parent.
The best approach is first and foremost to focus on your relationship with your teen. Choose your battles wisely and remember that they no longer can be constrained or disciplined with the same techniques that were effective when they were young children.