Speak Up! - View Question #21489
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Question: I live with my mother and stepfather. my mom had full custody of me. Do i have the choice of living with my father?
Arizona law does not generally allow a minor child to formally "choose" which parent he or she will live with. This is for a number of reasons. First, children often change their minds about which parent they like better, and sometimes not for very good reasons!
Teenagers, in particular, often change their minds about a great many things. That is a normal part of growing up and developing values and beliefs that will be used as an adult someday. Unfortunately, if the child was permitted to pick and choose which parent he or she liked better, custody would be changing on a monthly (or even weekly!) basis. Such a situation would never work in real life, because both parents and children need stability in their lives.
The other reason why the law does not usually allow a child to select a which parent to live with is simply because it places too much pressure on the child. It is a tough decision to have to make, and many kids are simply not capable of handling that kind of a choice. Furthermore (and unfortunately), there are some parents who might pressure, threaten or bribe their kids to choose one way or another if they knew that the decision was up to the child. The law needs to apply equally to everyone.
The good news is that the court will definitely want to hear your opinion before making any decision about custody. In fact, it is one of the factors that the court considers before ruling on the issue. This and the other factors considered can be found at A.R.S. § 25-403(A)(2).
In other words, you have a voice, but not a choice. There are a number of ways for the judge to ask for your opinion. The judge can order a therapist to conduct a custody evaluation which would involve one or more interviews between you and the therapist assigned to the case. The therapist would then write a report that includes a summary of all the things the child has to say, and give it to the judge.
Alternatively, Arizona state law permits the judge to talk directly to the child in private chambers where the child would not be pressured by either parent to say things a certain way.
Finally, the judge has the option of appointing a lawyer to represent only the child. The appointed attorney would interview the child and advocate the child's position just as the lawyers for your parents are supporting what they have to say. A lot will depend on the age of the child. While there is no magical age at which a child's opinion becomes more important, it is easier for a teenager to express him or herself more clearly simply because of maturity and greater life experience than a child who is still in elementary school.
However, if there is something dangerous going on in your home and then you need to contact the police or Child Protective Services. You can also go to your school counselor and discuss your concerns. But you need to tell someone. There are some phone numbers you can call to get help in the links section of this site.