Fourteen Is Not A Magic Number

It’s not uncommon for teenagers to start having a preference as to which parents’ home they prefer as their home base. This can be for a number of reasons, such as typical clashes with a parent about rules and boundaries, or they like the friends who live in one parent’s neighborhood better. It can also be because one parent comes down hard on them about schoolwork and curfew, whereas the other parent provides no boundaries or bedtimes.

Many people have the misconception that 14 is the magic age when a child can choose for himself or herself where to live. This is a common mistake. Indiana law never places this right or responsibility only on the child’s wishes. The opinion of a child is one of a list of numerous factors that a court must review when deciding custody and parenting time. A fourteen year-old is most likely to want to live with the parent who provides the fewest rules and requirements, and who gives them the most time with their smartphone and friends. This is just one of the reasons why Indiana law does not permit children to make the determination of where they want to live.

For similar reasons, a child does not get to set his or her own parenting time schedule. Not only would the child choose the parent’s home where there are the fewest rules, but allowing a child to set the schedule sets up a dangerous dynamic where the child makes the rules and it is the parent who must follow them. If Mom starts to exert her parental authority, little Susie will decide to spend more time with Dad. Until next semester when Susie’s cell phone needs an upgrade, and only Mom will pay for it.

It is best for parents to not discuss the “fourteen year old” benchmark with a child, as that may create some expectation that the child can become the master of his own destiny when he reaches that age. Creating a custody and parenting time plan is serious business and is a matter best left to adults who have experience, resources and that child’s best interests in mind. For more information about your custody order or parenting time plan, contact a Wanzer Edwards attorney.

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