Question: My wife and I are divorced. We have a son, who is now 15 years old. When we divorced, he was 9 years old. He lived primarily with his mother after our divorce, and I had him 1 night of the week and every other weekend. My ex started dating and he has been having a hard time with it. He constantly argues with her and does not like her current boyfriend. On nights when he is supposed to be with her, he has ridden his bike to my house. I would then call my ex and take him home or let him stay with me if my ex agreed. He has been asking to live with me and never wants to go home when his mother comes to get him. How do we change the current custody arrangement? Can my son decide where he wants to live?
Answer: As much as your son wants to live with you, he cannot decide which parent he will live with. However, this does not mean his preference is ignored when courts in Bucks County determine custody. One of the factors a Judge must consider when entering a Custody Order is the “well-reasoned preference of the minor child.” In general, the weight of the child’s preference depends on his age, maturity and intelligence. For example, a 15 year old’s preference will likely be given more weight than an 8 year old’s preference.
Courts also consider other factors as to why the child wants to live with one parent. For instance, does the child want to live with the father because the child had one fight with the mom? Or is there a well-reasoned, sound and valid basis for why the child wants to live with the father?
Ultimately, the court will determine custody in the best interests of the child and consider 16 factors. A discussion of these 16 factors can be found in our previous blog, Doylestown and Newtown Custody Cases – How is Custody Decided?
Changing a Custody Arrangement
If you want to change your current custody arrangement, we would need to know if there is a custody order. If so, you would need to file a petition to modify custody. If there is no custody order in place, i.e., the current arrangement was agreed upon privately between you and your ex, then you would need to file a custody complaint to have the Court determine the custody schedule if you can’t agree on a new arrangement.