When Arizona parents divorce, if they cannot agree on a child custody arrangement, a judge needs to decide the matter. They may ask for input from the children in question if they believe they’re old and/or mature enough for their wishes to be considered. The judge, however, makes the final decision.
Arizona state lawmakers are considering a bill that would give some teens a greater say in physical and legal custody decisions. The bill, HB2642, would amend the current law to say that any child who is 14 years of age or older and “sufficiently mature so that the child can intelligently and voluntarily express a preference for one parent” can choose how custody will be divided.
The judge would still make the final decision. However, the child’s preference would be “considered presumptive” unless the judge decides it’s not in their best interests.
The bill also addresses the preferences of children under 14 years of age. The language in the proposed legislation says that the court “shall strongly consider” the wishes of a child who is younger than 14 but “of suitable age and maturity unless those wishes are determined not to be in their best interests.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Arizona House of Representatives. It still needs to be considered by the State Senate.
Are kids capable of making good decisions about their custody?
Family law and mental health professionals have expressed concern about giving children greater authority in these decisions. One clinical psychologist notes, “Their frontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of the brain, doesn’t really develop until their mid-20s. So, we’re asking that kids who are not good at making executive decisions be in charge of those decisions.”
If the bill were to become law, Arizona would be giving teens and those even younger more say over their custody than they have in any other state. The proposed legislation, however, still has a long way to go before becoming law.
While it’s typically best when older children can have some say in these decisions when their parents’ divorce, it’s a big responsibility to place on their shoulders – and one they could easily end up regretting or feeling some guilt about. When parents can negotiate their own custody decisions, with legal guidance, they’re more likely to arrive at an arrangement that’s in their children’s best interest and with which they both believe is fair.