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Can the child decide?
Ontario’s laws clearly define milestones of maturity. Old enough to drive, old enough to vote. But at what age can a child legally decide which parent they will live with following a divorce?
Ontario’s Family Law actually doesn’t define a specific age where a child can decide which parent to live with. You may hear numbers floating around out there like 12, 14, and 16. However, none of these are accurate.
The courts will factor in a child’s wishes. However, at no point or age will their preference override the numerous other factors that determine custody.
Many divorce and separation periods are emotional and children are often caught in the middle of two parents, both of whom claim to be acting in a child’s best interest. A parent might take steps to cloud a child’s opinion of the other parent, to swing custody in their favour. Ontario’s laws do their best to protect against young people having to make a decision like that based on emotion or whim.
Ontario’s Attorney General’s website has a downloadable booklet called “WHERE DO I STAND?—A child’s legal guide to separation and divorce.” One of the questions it answers is, “Do I have to choose which parent to live with?” They answer:
“You are not expected to choose between your parents. Where you live is up to your parents. If they cannot agree, a judge will decide. Most parents try very hard to make plans they feel will be best for their children. They know it is hard for children to choose between their parents.”