Is 14 a Magical Birthday?
I am often asked about what happens when a child turns 14, with the general consensus being that a child magically now gets to decide their fate. It seems that most people have the misconception that 14 is some sort of magical age when a child can choose for himself or herself where to live and a court and his parents will simply defer to their wishes. This is simply not the case. Indiana law never places this right or responsibility only on the child’s wishes. Instead, a child's preference is one of a list of numerous factors that a court will consider when deciding custody and parenting time.
Here's the only thing magical about a child's 14th birthday: a court now considers the child "competent" to testify. However, a lot of courts are not comfortable allowing a child to testify, at any age. Why? Because most 14- year- olds likely do not know what's best for them. They may want to live with the parent who provides the fewest rules and requirements, and who gives them the most time with their smartphone and friends. This is just one of the reasons why Indiana law does not permit children to make the determination of where they want to live.
Moreover, courts are generally reluctant to let a child of any age believe that they have power over their parents and get whatever they want. Generally in Indiana, a child does not get to set his or her own parenting time schedule. Not only would the child choose the parent’s home where there are the fewest rules, but allowing a child to set the schedule sets up a dangerous dynamic where the child makes the rules and it is the parent who must follow them.
It is best for parents to not discuss the 14 year benchmark with a child, as that may create some expectation that the child can become the master of his own destiny when he reaches that age. Custody and parenting time are issues that should only be discussed among parents and will ultimately be decided by the court, not a 14 year-old.