Can a child’s age affect custody decisions?

No matter how old your children are, the prospect of spending less time with them after divorce can be tough. But when your case goes to court, how much does age factor into a judge’s ultimate custody decision?

Age can be a significant part of the picture. But it certainly isn’t the only factor a judge will look at when deciding which parent will receive primary custody. In some cases, it can play a larger role, especially in the case of a newborn or breast-feeding child, but it doesn’t mean that age is the main contributing factor. Rather, a judge will consider the child’s overall best interests.

What does a child’s best interests include?

Simply put, a child’s best interests consist of standards that each parent must meet in order to provide for the child. Age is only one element of a long list of factors, including:

  • Parent’s health — A judge will look at the physical and mental well-being of each parent to determine if any health problems will get in the way of how much they are able to love, support and guide their child.
  • Relationship — A judge may also consider the depth of the bond that a child has with each of their parents.
  • Home environment — The parent who has a safe home with plenty of room to raise a child is more likely to receive primary custody of a child.
  • Financial stability — A steady income and responsible spending habits bodes well for custody decisions. The parent who can afford to provide food, shelter, clothing, education and medical care has a better chance at winning custody.
  • Consistency — Judges often don’t like to uproot a child. This means they will try to keep the child close to their friends, school or other family members.

When deciding who will receive custody, a judge will attempt to satisfy every best interest of the child. Usually, age comes second to more important best interest standards such as the mental and physical well-being of the parent and the safety and security of the home environment.

When does age play a significant role?

In some instances, however, a judge will allow a child to express their wishes in a custody case. In Illinois, children who are 14 years or older can tell the judge whether they have a preference when it comes to which parent gets custody.

A judge does not necessarily have to rule in favor of the child’s decision. But the older your child, the more likely their opinion will factor into the judge’s ultimate ruling.

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