Does a child have input on custody and living arrangements?

Family Law in play letters, with gavel
Does a child have input on custody and living arrangements? For example, we often receive the question along the lines of “My son is 13 and wants to live with me full-time. Can he talk to a judge about what he wants? In general, judges do not like to see children in family law courtrooms. Oregon law does not give children under 18 the choice of where they will live or what parenting plan their parents will follow. While there are situations where a child’s voice will need to be heard, Oregon courts prefer to find alternatives to having a child testify against a parent.

Children often have strong opinions about where they will live, even if safety, abuse, or neglect are not an issue. In those cases, it is more common to ask the court to appoint an attorney to represent the child. If a child writes a letter and requests the appointment of an attorney, the court must appoint an attorney. If a parent makes the request, the court may make the appointment. Courts also appoint attorneys for children without anyone making a request, if a judge has concerns for a child.

Depending on the local court rules, the child’s attorney will either act as an “advocate” attorney for the child (usually with older children) or will act as a “best interests” attorney (usually with younger children). An advocate attorney must relay to the court what the child wants, while a best interests attorney must assess what is best for the child under all of the circumstances. The attorney shares information with the court, which generally allows the children to have a voice without needing to be present in the courtroom.

Note: There are situations where child abuse or serious safety concerns exist, which may lead to a child needing to testify. In those cases, the child may be questioned directly by the judge outside of the presence of the parents, although the children’s parents may be present.