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The age of a child and its role in custody matters

When actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt ended their marriage, Californians watched closely to see what would happen to their wealth, their careers and their children. While Jolie apparently retained custody of their kids in the following months, Pitt continued to play a role in the children's lives. Recently, though, a court has ruled that changes must be made to the structure of the former couple's custody plan to ensure that the kids continue to have a relationship with their dad.

The former couple has devised a plan that breaks down when the kids will be with each parent week-by-week and when they may have contact with each other. Notably, though, the plan only applies to five of their six children. Their oldest son, age 16, has been left out of the new custody arrangement.

This is because the parents either agree that he is old enough to make his own decisions regarding where he wants to spend his time, or the parents are unwilling or unable to get him to abide by their decisions.  Contrary to popular belief,  children do not attain the capacity to decide when they will spend time with each parent upon achieving a certain age or maturity. In California, children over 14 years of age have the right to express their preferences to the Court at the time a custody determination is made.  The Court is required to consider - but not to follow - the preferences of the child.

All child custody matters in California should reflect the best interests of the children. In the case of Jolie and Pitt, the court took into account the preference of their oldest son to make decisions for himself with regard to how he wanted to foster his relationships with his parents. However, each case is unique, so it is important for parents seeking to establish a child custody arrangement understand how their child's particular needs would best be served.

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