A common question asked by parents facing a divorce in Australia is, ‘When can my child decide who they would like to live with?’. To answer this question in this context, there is no set/standard age when a child can decide who they want to live with. However, a number of factors need to be considered, one of which is the best interest of the child. The wishes of the child are just one of these best interest factors.
As the child becomes older, the Court places a greater weight on their wishes on the basis of an increased understanding, insight and maturity. This is to enable the court make a decision in the best interest of the child. To determine what the child’s best interest is, the court needs to consider the need to protect the child from psychological or physical harm and from being exposed or subjected to family violence, neglect or abuse.
The court also needs to consider the views expressed by the child, including any factors that the court considers to be pertinent to the weight given to the child’s views. For instance, if a seven-year-old child is evaluated as showing high levels of maturity and understanding of the conflict between his parents, then the court may place weight on his views. Furthermore, the court has the power to order for “wishes report”. This usually involves a social worker or a Court-based psychologist interviewing the child respecting the child’s wishes.
In summary, there is no specific age at which a child can decide who to leave with. The most important thing is the child’s maturity to understand and express their view.