What Role Does the Child’s Preference Play in a Custody Case?

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Child Custody
What Role Does the Child’s Preference Play in a Custody Case?

Navigating a child custody battle is rarely straightforward, but one question that often arises is: How much weight does a child’s preference hold in the court’s decision? While each case is distinct, Illinois law does take into consideration the child’s wishes under specific circumstances.

The Age Factor

In Illinois, there is no strict age at which a child’s preference automatically becomes a deciding factor in custody cases. However, the older and more mature the child is, the more likely the court will consider their opinions valid. Judges typically give more weight to the opinions of children who are 14 years or older.

Legal Criteria

Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the court examines multiple factors when deciding custody arrangements. A child’s preference is just one among many considerations, such as the mental and physical well-being of the parents, the child’s adjustment to their current school, community, and home, and any history of physical violence or threat of physical violence by either parent.

When Does the Court Listen?

The court will entertain the child’s preference only if it is reasonably sure that the child’s preference is in their best interest. Courts generally shy away from placing children in a position to choose between parents unless absolutely necessary. Consulting a family law attorney can help you understand when and how a child’s wishes can factor into a custody case.

However, it’s also crucial to acknowledge that sometimes children might have conflicting feelings or could be swayed by various external pressures, including from friends, extended family, or social media. In these situations, the court might rely on professionals like psychologists or counselors to gauge the child’s genuine preferences and emotional well-being. These experts can help the court to determine not just what the child says they want, but also what would genuinely be in their best interest in the long-term. So, while the child’s voice is important, it’s part of a broader investigative process aimed at safeguarding their emotional and physical well-being.

Procedures and Protocols

Usually, a child does not testify in open court. Instead, their preferences might be heard through an interview conducted by a court-appointed representative. These interviews are often less intimidating for the child and can lead to a more honest expression of their feelings.

Parental Influence

It’s crucial to note that if the court believes a child has been coached or influenced, it may discount the child’s expressed preference. Parental manipulation not only negates the child’s voice, but may also backfire against the manipulating parent.


While a child’s preference can play a role in custody decisions, it is not the sole criterion. Illinois courts look at the big picture, focusing on what’s in the child’s best interest. If you are in the midst of a custody battle and want to understand how your child’s opinion may impact the case, contact us to schedule a consultation with a family law attorney experienced in child custody matters in Illinois.

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