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Do children have a say in custody decisions?

In the film "Catch Me If You Can," Leonardo DiCaprio plays a 16-year-old boy who is given an agonizing choice. His parents are getting a divorce - and ask him to decide which one of them he will live with.

The choice is an impossible one for him, because he loves both parents. DiCaprio's character responds in an emotional, unpredictable way that drives the film's plot.

To be sure, "Catch Me If You Can" depicts an extreme situation. But it also points toward a larger question: what input are children allowed to have in deciding which parent to live with after a divorce?

To answer this question, let's first review the relevant terminology in Arizona for child custody in divorce cases. As we noted in our March 13 post, Arizona now formally uses the terms "legal decision-making" and "parenting time," rather than the traditional term "child custody."

So what kind of voice do children have when courts are making decisions about parenting time or decision-making arrangements for children in a divorce proceeding?

Judges do have the discretion to take children's preferences into account. But in practice, a judge is probably more likely to rely on input received from a mental health professional who has made an assessment of the child's situation.

In short, a movie-style dramatic moment, in which a child is suddenly asked to pick a parent, is not a realistic scenario in Arizona.

Whether the child gives input or not, disputes over child custody can be very difficult to resolve. That is why it makes sense to have a knowledgeable family law attorney on your side.

To learn more about our practice, please visit our page on parenting time.

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