This is a complicated issue. People often tell me that 12 years old is when a child can legally choose where to live. When I ask why that is their belief the answer varies from ‘my lawyer told me’ to ‘it’s what happened in my sister’s family’ to ‘all my friends told me’.
The Family Law Act (1975) does not specify an age for when a child can choose where to live, however there are general understandings and practises.
From the age of 12 years, a child’s wishes are considered – just considered. It is no guarantee that your 12yo child will be able to choose where to live.
From 14yo a child’s wishes are listened to and the court will work hard to meet the needs of the child. Note – needs NOT wants. This means they will address the underlying issues of why a child is preferring one parent or household over another. Again, it is not a guarantee that a 14yo child can choose where to live.
From 16yo, Courts are resistant to make an order for a child of this age unless there is great need for an Order. Children of this age tend to vote with their feet and honestly, this is a really, really fine line.
HOWEVER, if you’re not in court, you can agree to anything by consent. If a child of 12 wishes something to be one way and the adults allow that child to dictate, or one parent doesn’t fight the child, then the child usually gets what they want.
In cases where one parent is backing a ‘child’ to make their own decisions and one parent wants the parents to make those adult decisions, then there’s no ‘age’ under 18yo, that a child can decide. Parents decide. Judges decide. Children don’t decide.
Children can emancipate themselves under extreme circumstances, leave home and access government payments including living away from home allowance if still at school, from the age of 14years.