If it seems like state lawmakers around the country are taking on issues that reach deep into our personal lives, a piece of legislation under consideration in Arizona will likely feel like one more example. It involves the role a child can play in deciding their custody arrangement when their parents divorce
Currently, if a judge has to make a ruling on child custody because the parents can’t agree, they have the option to ask the child what their wishes are if they believe their age and maturity warrant it. The judge can take their wishes into consideration when making their ruling, but they aren’t required to give them any particular weight.
What changes would the legislation make to the decision process?
The legislation under consideration, House Bill (HB) 2642, would change the law to specify that a child who is at least 14 and “sufficiently mature so that the child can intelligently and voluntarily express a preference for one parent” can weigh in on their custody. Further, their wishes would be “considered presumptive” unless there are reasons why the judge believes they’re not what’s best for them.
The legislation would also give more weight to the wishes of younger children. The bill states that a court “shall strongly consider” the wishes of a child under 14 if they’re considered mature enough. Again, the judge would not be expected to rule based on those wishes if it wouldn’t be in their best interests.
Although HB 2642 passed easily in the House, the Senate would still need to approve it before it goes to the governor for signature. Before it gets to that point, the legislation could potentially undergo changes.
Custody decisions don’t have to be made by a judge
Parents of even the most mature children and teens know that their feelings and wishes can change dramatically from one day to the next. Even the smartest kids often don’t understand what’s in their best interests over the long run.
When divorcing parents can work out a custody agreement together, they can avoid placing their future in the hands of a judge who may soon have to give more weight to their child’s opinion than they might. With experienced legal guidance, you have a better chance of successfully negotiating an agreement that will work for everyone.