At what age can a child choose which parent they live with?

When deciding on living arrangements for a child, the term commonly used is “parenting arrangements”.  This term should not be confused with “custody” which is related to making decisions on behalf of the child and not about which parent the child lives with.  Joint legal custody is the most common arrangement where the parents are separated.  This arrangement may not mean equal parenting time, but both parents will be involved in making major decisions on behalf of the child.

Many people incorrectly believe that a child may choose which parent he or she lives with when the child turns 12.  Saskatchewan law does not set a specific age when a child may decide with which parent he or she lives, but Judges can take into account a child’s wishes in deciding issues related to parenting arrangements.  In such instances, a qualified professional completes a “Voices of the Children” report which sets out the wishes of the child.  The Judge will read and consider this report, but is not legally bound by it. 

Judges take a number of factors into consideration when deciding issues related to parenting arrangements, including but not limited to the age and maturity of the child.   Every case is unique and, if the Judge thinks what the child wants is not based on good reasons or there are other important facts related to what is best for the child, the Judge may make a decision about parenting arrangements that is counter to the child’s wishes.

The decision of where a child will live after parents separate or get a divorce is based on a legal concept called the child’s best interests.  The child’s best interests involves a number of factors, not just what you want as a parent, but also such things as:

  • the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • each parent’s ability to care for the child;
  • each parent’s willingness to ensure the child continues to have a relationship with the other parent (as long as it is in the child’s best interests);
  • where each parent lives;
  • the child’s interests and abilities;  and
  • other considerations that are specific to the needs of that particular child.