What Role Should Preteens and Teens Play in Creating Custody Agreements?

 When it comes to creating a custody and parenting plan for younger children it can be quite a bit simpler than when you’re dealing with a preteen or a teen. With a toddler or an elementary school-aged child, the primary custody decisions are either going to be up to the parents or the Rhode Island court system, if an agreement can’t be reached.

When older children or teenagers are involved, it can be a more complicated because they often want to have a say in the situation.

Here’s what to know about child custody and the child’s preferences in Rhode Island:

Is There an Age When Kids Can Make Their Own Custody Decision?

Many parents have the misconception that there’s a certain age, for example 13, when teenagers are allowed to determine with which parent they’ll live.

In Rhode Island this isn’t the case—there’s no magic age where teenagers are completely responsible for deciding with whom they’ll live, but with that being said, many Rhode Island family court judges do heavily take into consideration the preferences of the child, particularly older children, when making a decision.

The older the child, the more heavily their opinion tends to weigh in the judge’s decision-making process.

As well as playing a role in overall custody decisions, older kids can also have an impact on visitation. For example, a teenager may prefer overnight visits with the parent who doesn’t have primary custody, or on the other hand may request not to go overnight and these are issues that are going to be part of the judge’s decision in most cases.

Common Exceptions

Despite the willingness of judges to look to older children and teenagers when determining custody, there are some instances where this may not be the case, particularly if it’s not in the best interest of the child.

Ultimately, the number one consideration looked to in determining custody in Rhode Island is the child’s best interest, and if preferences contradict this, the judge is going to follow criteria related to best interest.

Another situation where children aren’t a primary part of the decision is with regard to legal custody.

Parental Considerations

If you have older children and you’re facing a custody issue, there are some important things to remember:

  • There are both pros and cons to asking your child about his or her preferences regarding custody and visitation. On one hand, it can help ease the transition process for a divorce and help older preteens and teens feel more included and adjusted as far as making the necessary changes. On the other hand, it can put a lot of stress on older children and they may feel like they’re facing a situation where they have to “choose” between their parents. It’s important to weigh both of these concerns and determine which route is going to be best for your individual child.
  • Sometimes teenagers can use these custody cases as a way to manipulate both parents and get their way. What this means is that teenagers can often pit parents against one another or choose to live with the parent who’s going to be more lenient. As a divorced parent of a teenager, it’s important to avoid these potential pitfalls by working together with your former spouse, as difficult as it may be, to ensure your teenager isn’t altering the situation for his or her own purposes or gain.
  • Teenagers really begin to develop their own identities during these years, and that often means more social events and emphasis on being with friends and involvement in activities and extracurriculars. Be sure to consider all of these things when you’re trying to create a parenting and custody plan for your teen—otherwise it can lead to resentment and your teen may end up behaving inappropriately or angrily toward you.

If you’re in the midst of handling a custody issue with your child or teen, or are even contemplating a divorce, the best thing to do is contact an experienced divorce lawyer who can guide you through the process and help you find a solution that’s going to be in the best interest of your entire family. 

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