Among the many decisions that need to be made in a divorce, one question that often arises is whether a child can choose which parent they want to live with. While it might seem straightforward, this question involves some legal nuances that deserve attention. Children in California do have a say in which parent they want to live with, typically when they reach around 13 years of age. Children under 13 are not considered to be mature enough to make a decision about which home they prefer to live in.

If a child, 13 or older, must make a decision to be with one parent or the other, the parents are probably in litigation, indicating a contentious situation. At this point, a judge’s involvement becomes crucial. The judge’s role is to assess the minor’s decision and determine if it aligns with the child’s best interests.

While the child’s preference holds weight, the court will evaluate the child’s mental capacity and whether or not the child is mature enough to make an informed choice. There are various factors that can affect this decision, including the child’s overall reaction to the parent’s separation or their academic performance.

The court will consider the parent’s disciplinary approaches and whether or not a more  indulgent environment is beneficial or harmful to the child’s development. The court also aims to ensure that both parents remain active participants in the child’s life and that no manipulation is used to prejudice either parent.

In conclusion, while the child’s preferences are considered, the final decision rests with the court. The court will aim to create a custody arrangement that promotes a healthy and nurturing environment for the child’s growth. The goal is to ensure that both parents play an active role in the child’s life, while also safeguarding the child from potentially harmful environments. Divorce is undoubtedly a complex matter, but with guiding principles in mind, families can navigate this challenging process with a focus on their children’s welfare and future.

Lynette Kim has over 25 years of experience as a family law attorney in California and focuses on peacefully resolving disputed divorce issues.  The Kim Mediation and Law Center is located at 3701 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 508 in Los Angeles, CA. To schedule an appointment, call 213-351-1000 or visit