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When Can A Child Decide Which Parent To Live With In Alberta
At times, a child might have a preference for living with one parent over the other. Generally, family law encourages children to have parenting time with both parents, but this is not always feasible for a variety of reasons. When you are trying to work out a custody arrangement, you may need legal advice. The best child custody lawyer in Edmonton can explain what influence your child might have on the process.
First and foremost, you should keep in mind that your child's preference will not have an inappropriate level of influence on the final custody decision. In Alberta, the wishes of a child are not the sole deciding factor if a child custody case goes before a judge. What a child wants may provide a judge with insight about what is in the best interests of the child, but a judge must weigh multiple factors when determining custody. Whether a judge ultimately honours a child's request depends on the totality of the evidence.
What is the age when a child can decide which parent to live with?
Alberta family law does not designate a certain age ...
... as the point at which a child may provide input. Informally, the court system tends to consider children's preferences once they are 12 or older. The wishes of teens get the most consideration because at that age children may have important activities outside of the home that require them to live in a certain location. Additionally, a teen may have forged a strong relationship with one parent or is openly hostile to one parent.
How does a child's age influence a child custody decision?
A child's age does not automatically alter either parent's right to parenting time. The request to live with one parent by a child might be informative, but the court system must consider this information in the context of a child's age or maturity level.
Although children move through developmental stages, they do not do it at the same rate. Some children mature more quickly than others. The child development stages proposed by the psychologist Jean Piaget help to illustrate when a child has the ability to communicate a meaningful opinion about custody.
According to Piaget, child development follows this sequence:
Sensorimotor - Birth through about 24 months.
Preoperational - Toddlers through about age 7
Concrete operational - Roughly ages 7 to 11
Formal operational - Adolescence and into adulthood
Obviously, during the first years of a child's life, the child lacks the cognitive ability to fully comprehend questions of custody. By the preoperational stage, a child begins to understand the past, present, and future. Logic remains shaky at this point though, and complex subjects are largely beyond the scope of a child's cognitive ability.
By the concrete operational stage, most children accomplish logical reasoning. Awareness of external events, like a parental breakup, becomes easier to grasp and process. A highly developed child in this 7 to 11 age group might display the maturity and reasoning ability to explain reasons for favouring living with a specific parent.
Because development varies among children, judges at times have valued the input of children under the age of 12. Such an occurrence is rare, but a judge does have the option of recognizing a child's request from this age group if evidence indicates logical reasoning and valid conclusions.
Beyond age 11, children will eventually enter the formal operational stage. This level of intellectual development enables abstract thinking, which includes a sense of justice. For this reason, the wishes of a teen may have a greater influence on a judge's custody order. In some cases, a judge might side with what a teen wants if forcing a different custody arrangement would increase the risk of confrontation with a parent or even the child running away.
Why would a court want to know which parent a child wants to live with?
As you learn more about family law in Edmonton, you will hear the concept of the best interests of the child come up repeatedly. This is the standard for making custody decisions, and what a child wants could be an important factor in determining the best interests. Due to the legal importance placed on the child's best interests, a court cannot simply ignore a child's preference.
Because a child's preference may warrant consideration in some cases, a judge will strive to assign a value to this variable based on factors such as:
The child's maturity
A parent's desire to relocate
The reasons given by the child for the preference
Special needs and health care requirements
The opinions of siblings
You may also want to keep in mind that judges are people, and they will have personal views about what a child needs. The skilled presentation of a custody argument in court by an Edmonton child custody lawyer may keep a judge focused on objective facts. Such an effort could limit the influence of personal biases that might interfere with the interpretation of the case.
Court-Ordered Voice of the Child Assessment
When parents cannot resolve a child custody dispute in Edmonton, the case will head to court. Because these cases can be complex, a court might order a Voice of the Child Assessment. In Alberta, these orders can take the form of a parenting time or parenting responsibilities assessment. A third-party professional parenting expert, like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counsellor, will be assigned by the court to interview the child and the parents. The parenting expert will then write a report about the family and make recommendations. Any court proceeding concerning the best interests of the child may use the parenting expert's report as evidence.
The purpose of the assessment is to offer the court an objective view of the family situation. This could aid the litigation process and help a judge evaluate conflicting information from the parents.
Because child custody cases that end up in court are obviously very contentious, you should know that a court could impose an assessment on your child against your wishes. If you do not approve of the expert speaking to your child, the court does have the power to order the assessment without your consent. A child custody lawyer may help you avoid such an imposition.
Court-Appointed Lawyer for a Child
Alberta courts also have the option of appointing a lawyer to represent your child. An older child might have the ability to inform the appointed lawyer about his or her desires. However, even if a child cannot communicate meaningful instructions, the court-appointed lawyer would still strive to promote the child's best interests.
Will my child have to speak in court?
Courts rarely have children speak directly in court. Their wishes are usually expressed in reports from parenting experts or through the petition's prepared by one of the parents. The emotional turmoil that accompanies the separation of parents prompts courts in almost all cases to avoid placing the pressure of a court appearance on a child's shoulders.
Dependable and Thorough Edmonton Child Custody Lawyers
A child who wants to live with only one parent can increase the tension during a child custody dispute. Although these issues are never easy to deal with, the guidance of a family lawyer from Kolinsky Law can transform an overwhelming situation into a productive process. We will address your questions and concerns and work hard to protect your parental rights. We have extensive experience with child custody battles. To receive the support that you need during a difficult time, contact our office in Edmonton right away.
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