When a child reaches 16 they are legally able to decide where they wish to live, unless there is a Residence Order or Child Arrangement Order that specifies living arrangement up to 18. However, a child does not need to be over 16 to have an influence on where they would like to live.
Who decides where your child lives?
When going through a separation, there are, generally speaking, two ways to decide where your child lives:
- Both parents come to an agreement; or
- The court decides for you
If you can both agree where your child lives, you may wish to allow your child to make the decision for themselves. This is entirely your choice, if they are under 16, as there is no set age prior to this that determines when a child is allowed to say where they want to live. However, the final decision falls to the parents to decide who is going to be the ‘primary care-giver’ (the person who the child lives with).
For some families the decision is fairly straightforward. Usually, one person agrees to move out, leaving the other parent and the child in the family home to cause as little disruption as possible.
If you can’t agree initially, then you should seek legal advice.
At first, you will probably be advised to try Mediation. This gives you and your ex-partner a chance to discuss child care arrangements with a specially trained Mediator helping to guide the conversation. Mediation allows you to come to a mutually agreeable decision as to who the primary care-giver will be and how often the other parent gets to see the child.
If you can still not agree during Mediation, you will have to take the matter to court, where a judge will decide for you. The Judge’s decision will be based solely on what is in the child’s best interests. The Judge will take the child’s wishes into consideration but how much weight they carry will depend on the circumstances. Generally, if the child is over 12, they are considered to have a greater understanding of the situation and their wishes can have a greater influence on the outcome.
Existing court orders
As we mentioned before, once a child reaches 16 they are legally allowed to choose who to live with, unless an existing Residence Order or Child Arrangement Order specifies living arrangement up to 18. Often these court orders expire when a child turns 16; however it is possible to get them extended to the child’s 18 birthday.
If you’re having problems agreeing where your child should live or wish to challenge an existing Residence Order or Child Arrangement Order, please contact us in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900 or by email via our contact page.