Arizona House Bill 2642 passed the House yesterday. The bill would give children 14 years and up the right to choose which parent they will live with in a divorce or custody proceeding. If the child is under 14, it requires the court to “strongly consider” the wishes of the child. The current law gives much more discretion to judges when considering a child’s wishes.
In some family court cases, a child is mature enough to express a preference on who they want to live with. But in many more cases, children are being influenced by one or both parents in inappropriate ways. It is not uncommon for one parent to poison a child’s relationship with the other parent, even when there are no legitimate concerns about parental fitness.
If the law passes, it will put extreme pressure on children in divorce proceedings to pick sides. Their parents will know that, if they can convince the child to live with them, it will almost ensure a favorable outcome in their case. An award of primary custody also has a significant effect on child support. In the middle of a divorce case, parents frequently act out of malice for the other parent or are motivated by financial gain, rather than the child’s best interest.
A child’s wishes should be a factor in determining custody (which is already the case under current law). However, it should not be the deciding factor. HB2642 would cause huge negative effects in the family court system and on children with divorced parents. It would also create a flood of litigation from parents who have already laid the groundwork to alienate the other parent. I oppose HB2642 and encourage you to contact your representative to express your views.
You can track the bill’s progress here.