At What Age Does a Child Get to Choose Which Parent to Live With?

Pesch Law Office PC
American kid holding hands with divorced parents

Many parents wonder if there is a specific age when a child can choose which parent to live with. There's no fixed age in Colorado at which a child’s preference becomes determinative. Instead, courts look at the maturity of the child and how well they can express their preferences regarding custody.  

Whether you're a parent going through a divorce or seeking to modify an existing custody arrangement, understanding the different types of custody and the various factors courts weigh to determine the best interests of the child can help you become more equipped and informed as you consider your options. 

Here at Pesch Law Office PC, located in Denver, Colorado, we understand the weight of these moments and have been advocating for families and their needs since 1993 throughout the Denver metro area, Golden, Boulder, Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Columbine, Weld County, Broomfield County, Jefferson County, Douglas County, Arapahoe County, and Boulder County.  

With compassion, professionalism, and a deep understanding of family law, we are dedicated to educating and guiding clients through these delicate situations toward integrated solutions that best serve the health and best interests of the whole family.  

Types of Custody in Colorado    

In Colorado, child custody is typically categorized into two main types: physical custody and legal custody.    

  • Physical custody determines where the child resides. This can be sole physical custody to one parent or joint physical custody where the child spends significant time with both parents.  

  • Legal custody involves the right to make significant decisions regarding the child's welfare, including education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. Like physical custody, legal custody can be awarded solely or jointly.  

Understanding these distinctions is the first step in preparing for a custody case, as they shape the framework within which parents operate post-divorce or separation.  

The Child’s Preferences 

Colorado law considers the child’s preferences, with the weight given to them largely influenced by the child’s age, maturity, and ability to articulate reasoned choices. Judges evaluate a child's preference within the context of their overall well-being and how each parent supports the child's best interests. However, a child's wish isn't the overriding factor; it's one of many considered by the court.  

Determining Factors of Child Custody in Colorado 

In Colorado, judges consider several factors in determining custody arrangements, including the child’s wishes, but always within the context of the child’s best interest. This approach aims to account for all aspects of the child’s welfare, beyond their expressed preference. 

Among the numerous factors considered, the following are key:  

  • The child's age: Younger children may have different needs than teenagers, impacting physical custody decisions and scheduling.  

  • The child’s wishes: Depending on their age and maturity level, a child’s preference may influence the court's decision, although it’s not the sole determinant. 

  • Primary caregiver: The court often considers which parent has been the primary caregiver, as continuity in the child's care is seen as beneficial.  

  • Parent’s living situation: The stability, safety, and location of each parent's living situation can significantly affect custody decisions, as the court aims to minimize disruption in the child's life.  

Examples from Colorado Courts    

In practice, Colorado courts have shown a range of responses to children's preferences in custody cases. In some instances, the expressed wishes of a considerably mature and articulate teenager have played a significant role in the final custody determination. Conversely, when younger children or even teenagers express preferences based on superficial reasons, the court may assign less weight to those desires. 

The Importance of Legal Guidance  

Child custody cases are profoundly impactful, not just on the immediate family dynamics but on the child's long-term well-being. Given the highly personalized nature of these cases, securing legal guidance can make a significant difference in helping you advocate for your child's best interests in Colorado courts. A knowledgeable family law attorney can provide invaluable support by:    

  • Helping you understand the legal nuances of Colorado's family law system.  

  • Offering strategic advice tailored to your family’s unique circumstances.  

  • Advocating for your rights and your child’s best interests throughout the custody process.  

While the road to determining child custody in Colorado contains both legal and emotional twists and turns, a comprehensive understanding of the factors at play and skilled legal representation can help safeguard the child's best interests. The guidance of an experienced family law attorney is indispensable in supporting you on this layered legal journey.  

Frequently Asked Questions about Child Custody in Colorado 

Below are answers to frequently asked questions regarding how a child’s preferences impact custody arrangements in Colorado, tailored to offer clarity and guidance.   

Can a child's wishes change a court order in a custody determination in Colorado?   

In Colorado, while a child’s wishes regarding custody matters can indeed be considered by the court, they don't automatically result in changes to court orders. The court aims to make decisions based on the best interests of the child, incorporating various factors—including, but not limited to, the child’s wishes.

The weight given to a child’s preference is often influenced by the child's age, maturity, and the reasoning behind their preference. It's essential to work closely with an experienced family law attorney who can present the child's wishes in a manner that aligns with demonstrating the child’s best interests.  

What role does parental influence or manipulation play in the child's preference being considered by the court?    

Parental influence or manipulation is a significant concern for Colorado courts in custody cases. If the court suspects that a child’s preference is the result of one parent's influence or manipulation rather than the child’s personal, sincere wishes, the court may discount the preference. Any indication that the integrity of the child’s preference has been compromised can affect its impact on the court’s custody determination. 

Do Colorado courts factor in a child's preferences when there are allegations of parental alienation?    

Yes, Colorado courts take allegations of parental alienation seriously and consider them within the broader context of the child’s welfare and best interests. When a child expresses a preference in custody arrangements amidst allegations of parental alienation, the court will carefully evaluate the circumstances. This includes assessing whether the expressed preference results from undue influence by one parent.

A professional’s evaluation, such as a child psychologist, may be necessary to discern the child's genuine feelings and preferences from those influenced by potential alienation.  

At what age can a child refuse parenting time in Colorado?    

No specific age is legally defined in Colorado statutes where a child can outright refuse parenting time. The court’s primary concern is the child's best interests, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the child's age, maturity, and the circumstances surrounding the refusal of parenting time.

Even in cases where older children express a desire to limit or refuse time with one parent, courts will look to understand the reasons behind this preference and may still encourage a relationship with both parents whenever it's in the child’s best interest.  

Are there circumstances where a child's wishes won't be considered in child custody determination in Colorado?    

There are circumstances under which a child’s wishes might not heavily influence a custody determination. If the court believes that the child's preferences aren't in their best interest, don't stem from mature reasoning, or result from external influences like coercion, these wishes may not significantly impact the custody outcome.

The court's guiding principle remains the child's overall well-being and safety, and decisions are made with a holistic view of what will serve the child's best interests in the long term.  

Additional Considerations:    

When presenting a child's wishes to the court, it’s vital to do so with sensitivity and in a manner that respects the child’s voice without exposing them to unnecessary stress or pressure. Documentation, including statements from mental health professionals, educators, and other relevant parties, can support the child's expressed preferences.

For any specific concerns or to discuss your unique situation, reaching out to a qualified family law attorney in Colorado is strongly advised.  

Why Pesch Law Office Is Your Best Advocate in Child Custody Cases in Colorado  

Empathy, knowledge, and advocacy are the hallmarks of our approach at Pesch Law Office PC. Our practice recognizes the importance of your child's voice in custody proceedings, but we also understand the legal nuances. Our practice, serving not only Denver but also the broader Denver metro area, Golden, Boulder, and beyond, involves: 

  • A comprehensive and empathetic understanding of the stress and hopes involved in custody cases. 

  • Professional guidance that prioritizes your child's welfare and your rights as a parent. 

  • A detailed strategy designed to address your unique situation, whether it’s regarding uncontested divorce, contested divorce, child support, or child custody. 

  • A client-centered approach that values education, transparency, and dedicated advocacy to achieve the best possible outcomes for your family. 

Comprehensive solutions to Child Custody Cases 

Determining child custody arrangements is a profound aspect of family law that touches the heart of what it means to care for and protect your children. At Pesch Law Office PC, we are committed to championing your child's needs and your parental rights and addressing your concerns with the utmost care.  

Should you have further questions about child custody in Colorado, co-parenting solutions, or wish to discuss your child custody case, please don't hesitate to contact us. Our office is ready to serve you with a grounded understanding, legal guidance, and compassionate support every step of the way.