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Child Custody of Mid to Late Teens

We frequently receive child custody questions regarding older teens. Customarily, the caller is trying to ascertain whether the teen can state who the child lives with and at what age their wishes will be deemed conclusive.

A few things leap out on this question.

1. Kentucky law sets no age by which a teen can tell the court where he or she wants to live. As in all other custody matters, that depends on the court's determination of which custody scenario is in the best interests of the child.

2. When it comes to teens and contested claims of custody, no two cases are alike and are inherently fact driven. A teen may express a clear preference, but shouldn't necessarily be catered to; typically, we tend to see teens take the route of least difficulty (as they tend to gravitate toward the home where the least control is offered).

3. It is best to avoid circumstances where the teen may be forced to testify, and a number of judges won't even allow it. Their wishes may be presented through an appointed friend of the court (who will coordinate this presentation through a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the interests of the child. Another way that this may be presented is through a custodial evaluation, but of the two methods, while both expensive, the custodial evaluation is by far the most costly.

4. When making decisions on whether to contest on child custody in opposition to the wishes of an adolescent, it is important to maintain a sense of perspective. As young adults, the teen has one foot in the door and one foot outside, and a ruling grossly adverse to their wishes can make a difficult home life absolutely hellish, as teens have an ability to ensure that if they are unhappy, all the adults in their surround should be unhappy. When making these decisions, one has to consider the extent of the qualitative difference between the respective homes, and if situations are relatively safe and appropriate as between the two, it may be preferable to not have the conflict over making a point.