Can my Child Decide Who to Live With in Wisconsin?

Many parents want to know if their child can decide who they want to live with in a divorce or in a placement dispute.  Or, they ask at what age a child can decide who they want to live with.  In Wisconsin, the answer to that question is that children can never make the decision as to who they want to live with, at any age.

There are many reasons for this.  Primarily, however, the courts have determined that children are not emotionally mature enough to make such a momentous decision.  Further, parents should not be placing their children in the middle and forcing them to choose between two parents who they love.

Wisconsin statutes do provide that the judge must consider the wishes of the child when making a determination on placement.  However, that does not mean that children get to decide or make that decision.  Ultimately, it is up to the parents or the courts to make a placement decision.

The older the child gets, the more weight their wishes are given.  This is especially true for a child who is mature and/or has valid or legitimate reasons for feeling the way that they do.  However, parents often mistake strong feelings for maturity.  This is not the case.  I have had cases where the court does not listen to very immature teenagers (age 17) who want to live with one parent or the other for invalid reasons (a parent is too strict or a parent is trying to influence them).  I have also had cases where the court does listen to a mature younger child (age 12) who has very valid reasons for wanting to live with one parent over the other (abuse, alcohol, neglect, etc).

More importantly, if a parent is trying to influence their child too much or drag their child into a divorce or placement dispute, this will be construed negatively against them.  Parents want to be very careful about this or it could be used against them in a placement dispute.  Children, especially teens, often have strong feelings about a lot of things but that changes frequently.  Despite what they may say, however, they do not want to be placed in a position of having to choose between their parents.  If there are legitimate concerns about the other parent, such as neglect or abuse, then this should be pursued.  However, if the sole reason to change placement is simply because that is what the child allegedly wants, this is most likely not going to succeed in Wisconsin.

Sometimes, there is a situation where a child simply will not go with the other parent for placement.  The courts usually feel strongly that you are the parent and your children must listen to you and follow a court order.  After all, children do not get to decide whether to go to school, do their homework or a myriad of other tasks that they must do.  Parents must be able to control their children.  If the relationship between the child and the other parent has broken down to the point that the child will not go for placement, then counseling is in order to repair that relationship.  The reasons for this breakdown are important, of course, and the court will take those reasons into consideration.  Ultimately, however, the child does not get to decide whether to follow a court order or not.  Understandably, this often puts the placement parent in a difficult position.

If you have questions or concerns about a placement dispute, please feel free to contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule an appointment.  We offer free initial consultations and can review the facts of your case to evaluate your placement dispute.