The Myth of the “Magic Age”

April 22, 2009

When I talk with people about family law issues, I find there are a lot of misconceptions held by the public about the way the system actually works.  One of the most common questions I receive is a variation of “At what age can my child decide which parent she wants to live with?”

Now, what is the correct answer to that question?

A.    12

B.     16

C.     The child always gets to decide

D.    None of the above

Believe it or not, the correct answer is “D!”  In Wisconsin Family Court, the only “magic age” is 18 – adulthood.  Once a child reaches 18, the Court loses jurisdiction over custody and placement matters (but not necessarily child support; that is a topic for another day). 

This is true for all cases in Family Court, which are cases regarding annulment, divorce, legal separation or paternity-related matters.  Juvenile Court and Probate Court work within a different set of statutes and rules, and the wishes of children may be given more weight in those forums.

That is not to say that children have no voice in Family Court.  As a child ages and matures, his or her opinion tends to be given greater weight by all of the professionals in Family Court.  But, under the law, children never have the final say.  

Is this fair?

Is this moral?

What do you think?

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