At what age can a child decide who to live with?

It is a common misconception that there is a clear age where children get to decide which parent they live with or who they spend time with. Legally, a child cannot decide who they want to live with until they are 16. Until that age it is the decision of the parents as to where the children should live and when they spend time with the non resident parents.

Upon the breakdown of a relationship, where any children of the family should live and how long and how often they spend time with the other parent can often be a difficult decision and one that can cause a heated dispute.

When trying to decide arrangements for a child, parents should have in mind an arrangement which works in the best interests of the child(ren). It needs to work on a practical level whilst also allowing the children to spend quality time with each parent. If parents cannot agree then they should consider using mediation to try and reach an agreement before making an application to the court. They should also consider seeking legal advice.

If parties do end up at court then the court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the child(ren). The judge will decide where the child will live with consideration of their best interest and also their wishes and feelings. The child’s age will determine how much influence their wishes and feelings will have. The general rule is that a pre-teen or early teenager will have more influence than a much younger child and a lot can depend specifically on the child, their maturity and experiences.

If CAFCASS are involved in the case and the child is of an appropriate age then they will speak with the child about their wishes and feelings.

If you would like further advice on contact arrangements for children then please contact Danielle on 01243 790 532 or email

This blog is for information purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice.