Should a Child’s Preference be Taken into Account in Determining Custody Issues?

According to the Michigan Child Custody Act, one of the “best interests” factors addressed in any custody determination is: “The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.”
The law does not require the court to directly interview the child. It leaves open the possibility that the preference can be identified circumstantially, such as though what the child has written or said to other persons, or disclosed in an interview or psychological evaluation.
The court will not ascertain the preference of a very young child. That said, there is no categorical age minimum in the State of Michigan. The investigation will be conducted if the court determines that the child is sufficiently mature enough to express a reasonable preference. According to appellate decisions, by way of example, court need not necessarily consult a child as young as 6 but should consult a 9-year-old. That said, given certain facts relative to a child’s particular developmental qualities, a child need not necessarily consult a child as old as 10.
The child’s stated preference should not necessarily be the determining factor in the court’s assessment. Remember, the key is the reasonable preference. Only reasonable preferences will be considered. This means that a preference that seems arbitrary can be excluded. For example, a court might not lend much value to a child’s preference if the child chooses the more lenient parent or the parent with the nicer house. On the other hand, it might lend significant value to the opinion of a child who prefers a parent who shows affection, cooks, helps with homework, and attends extracurricular activities.
Note that the content of the child’s statement is confidential. So, while, in its own mind, the court will certainly consider the preference in its custody determination, it will normally not reveal to the parents what that preference actually was.