Proposed Arizona bill would allow older teens to have a say in custody when their parents divorce

A bill introduced to the Arizona State Legislature would, if passed, allow some kids to have the final say in deciding which parent to live with after they divorce.

The bill, HB2642, was passed overwhelmingly by members of the Arizona State House, and it is now in the State Senate. The bill is sponsored by Republican State Representative Shawnna Bolick, and under the bill, a child who is at least 14 years old and is "sufficiently mature so that the child can intelligently and voluntarily express a preference for one parent" will have the legal right to choose which parent they want to live with.

Under current law, judges can consider the child’s preference, but ultimately makes the final decision based on the child’s best interest.

Reaction to the bill mixed

Backers of the bill say it will benefit older teenagers by allowing their voices to be heard, and to be included in the decision-making process.

"You also have the kids who are truly blending into young adults, and that’s truly the focus of this," said Meagan Gipson, who supports the bill. "They want to be seen. They want to be heard. I think that’s actually -- in a lot of these kinds of cases and battles, it’s the complete opposite for these kids. They get lost in the mix."

Members of the family law community, however, say they are disappointed and concerned about the bill's unintentional consequences.

"No state in the union has gone this far to allow a 14-year-old, or child of any age, to have essentially veto power over what’s going to happen in legal decision-making or parenting time," said family law specialist Steven Wolfson.

"I don’t think there is a question in the world that this will do more harm if it passes," said clinical psychologist David Weinstock.

Opponents say most kids are generally not capable of making such a complex decision.

"Their frontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of the brain, doesn’t really develop until their mid 20s," said clinical psychologist David Weinstock. "So, we’re asking that kids who are not good at making executive decisions be in charge of those decisions."

The State Senate has yet to be assign the bill to an agenda for a hearing.

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