This question comes up constantly in Family Law. At least 4-5 times a month I have consults with potential clients who either ask this exact question or tell me they “heard” that when a child turns thirteen (13) they can decide where they want to live. I am not sure where the age of thirteen (13) comes from but my guess is either some misinformation on the internet or confusing this issue with the issue of adoption. (under the Juvenile Code a child can have some input on whether or not an adoption will occur once they reach a certain age).
The short answer to this question is when the child turns eighteen (18) they can decide where they will live. Before that date it is up to the parents or, in the event of a dispute, the Court. Pursuant to A.R.S. 25-403(A)(4) the court is required to consider the wishes of a child who is “of suitable age and maturity”. However, this is but one (1) of at least eleven (11) factors a court must consider in deciding parenting time and legal decision-making. Obviously the Court will place more and more weight on this factor as the child moves closer and closer to age eighteen (18) but the child’s wishes are not the determining factor. A child may not always know what is in their best interest and this can become more problematic when you have one parent who is actively trying to “coach” the child. Typically the Court will want to hear from older children when parenting time is an issue and that is done through either an interview with Conciliation Services (a branch of the Family Court) or by using a private counselor. Once that information is presented to the Court it must be weighed by the Court with the other ten (10) or more factors before a decision can be made.
This answer is for informational purposes only. It is not intended, nor should it be construed as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship shall exist unless and until an agreement for legal services is reached between attorney and client, and a legal services contract is fully executed by and between attorney and client.