Divorce can be a complicated process for all who are involved. Children still developing skills to navigate the world often have an even harder time with the process and aftermath. During the proceedings, if the parents cannot agree to custody terms, children may be asked to express a preference for living with a particular parent. At what age does the court begin to take a child’s own thoughts on their post-divorce living arrangements into account when deciding custody orders?

Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With at Age 12?

It is commonly thought that in Alberta, the age at which a child can decide which parent they will reside with after a divorce or separation is twelve. However, a twelve-year-old’s right to choose their living situation is a common misconception.

Technically, a child does not gain the right to choose ANYTHING for themselves while they are legally declared ‘children.’ Until they reach the age of majority, they are still under their parents’ primary control and responsibility. Therefore, a child can never choose their own living situation until they reach 18 and become legal adults in Canada.

What Say Do Children Have in Divorce Proceedings Before the Age of Majority?

While a child under the age of majority may not have the legal right to choose their own living situation without emancipation, this does not mean that a child is always at the whims of their parents. Though it is often dependent upon the individual child’s maturity, a court genuinely hears and considers a person as young as 12’s opinion of their personal future living situation.

A court is responsible for deciding in accordance with the child’s best interest in the divorce proceedings and, therefore, will often confer with the child. However, in the end, this is only a single factor in determining the child’s custody arrangements. A court may dismiss the child’s wishes if it feels it needs to make a more appropriate decision in the child’s best interest.

How Do You Speak to Your Child About Custody?

Experts recommend you speak with a professional about your individual child’s needs regarding their custody arrangements, as every person is different in their handling of certain situations. However, there are some common pitfalls and best practices generally agreed upon:

  • Don’t be reactive, allowing your child to discover the divorce and custody battle in their own time. Prepare your child for the situation by proactively discussing it with them.
  • Explain to them there will be a new living situation, and help them understand the changes.
  • Focus most of the conversation on the parts that will stay the same for them, such as the general location (if applicable) or routines you intend to keep.
  • Express the permanence of your relationship with the child and your continued love and care for them. A drastic change in relationships, such as a divorce, can cause a child to develop insecure attachments.
  • Allow your child to voice their questions and concerns. Hear them out without judging or criticizing them. Be honest and available to help them manage the change.