Child Arrangements: Can children choose which parent they live with?

A common question asked by separated parents is around child arrangements, and specifically at what age can their child or children choose which parent they want to live with. The short answer is when they are 16 years old and provided there is no court order in place regulating contact. If there is then they cannot decide until they are an adult.

The long answer is that whilst a child or children can voice their opinion about which parent they want to live with, ultimately the final decision is down to the parents and if they cannot agree the decision will be made in court proceedings with a Child Arrangements Order specifying where the child or children live. For some families the decision will be clear as their specific circumstances will mean there is a clear sensible choice. But for other families the decision is not so simple. However, in every case the right choice should be the one that meets the best interest of the children, not that of the parents

There are many options open as to how children split their time between their parents and if parents can agree then they can make arrangements between themselves and set down the arrangement in a Shared Care Plan. This plan allows the parents to retain control and flexibility over the arrangements and adapt them as the child or children grow or as family circumstances change.

For those parents who cannot agree for whatever reason, solicitors can become involved to help negotiate the issues and see if mutually acceptable terms can be agreed. If not then the last resort is a court application for a Child Arrangements Order. These Orders provide certainty but the parents will lose all flexibility since any variation to the terms of the Order in future would need to go back through the courts. The court would take account of the child or children’s wishes and feelings but would give more weight to these if the child or children are aged 13+.

For any parent who is experiencing difficulties with their ex-partner over the arrangements for their children, please do not hesitate to speak to one of our family solicitors in confidence about your situation. We offer an initial 45 minute consultation at a fixed price where we can discuss all options available and how we can assist you going forward.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.

Suffolk Divorce Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email