custody issue: child choosing which parent to live with

When Can My Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

I hear this question during nearly every one of my custody consults that involves children over a certain age. When can a child decide which parent to live with in a Virginia custody case? I wish I could give a clear answer, but the fact is, in Virginia, there really is no “magic age” that a child can decide which parent he or she wants to live with. This isn’t to say that the child’s custody preference isn’t a factor, it absolutely is, given the court deems the child to be of “reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express a preference.” But it is just one factor of several that the Court uses to decide custody arrangements in Virginia.

This is very different from the portrayal of custody matters on television. In the movies, the child states their choice and then that’s exactly what the court decides. In Virginia, however, the Judge uses the following factors to make a decision regarding custody: the age, physical conditions, and mental health of the child and parents, the child’s relationship with each parent, the child’s needs, the role each parent has played in the child’s life, each parent’s willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and the parent’s ability to cooperate in the raising of the child, any acts of domestic or sexual abuse by the parent, the child’s preference, and any other factors the court deems relevant.

This is a vast list and if you are trying to get physical custody of your child, it can seem very confusing. You should consult with an experienced attorney to discuss your options and how each of these factors play a role in the relationship with your child. We are here to help! Give us a call at 757-656-1000 or email us at and we will be happy to set up a consultation for you to speak with one of our attorneys about your specific custody matter. You don’t have to go through this alone.