If your parents separate, can you decide which parent you want to live with?

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What happens if my parents agree?

While your opinion should usually be part of the decision, children don't generally get to choose which parent they live with or how much time they'll spend with each parent after a separation or divorce. Your parents may agree about how much time you'll spend with each parent. They might make this agreement without talking to you.

The Family Law Act (which covers family law in BC) says that your parents have to consider only the best interests of the child when they make these decisions about you. Your best interests include what you want, unless it's not appropriate to consider that. But it includes a lot of other factors too. See below for more information about this best interests of the child test.

What happens if my parents don’t agree?

If your parents can't agree about where you should live or how much time you spend with each parent after they separate, a court may have to decide this for them. The court must also make their decision based on what is in your best interests.

What does the "best interests of the child" mean and how is that decided?

The "best interests of the child" test lists the things that your parents or a court have to consider when they make decisions about parenting after separation and divorce.  The things they must consider include:

  • your health and emotional well-being;
  • what you want (unless it is inappropriate to consider that);
  • the love and affection between you and other important¬†people in your life,
  • your need for stability at your age and stage of development;
  • who has cared for you in the past;
  • whether your parents or others who want to parent you are able to look after you;
  • the impact of any family violence on your safety, security, and well-being; and
  • whether arrangements that require your parents' (or other guardians') cooperation are appropriate.

Will my opinion be considered?

You’ll see from the second point in the list above that your views must be taken into account in most cases. So, if your parents make a decision about you that you're not happy with, talk to them about it. If your parents go to court, the court will probably want to know what you think about it.

But, although your opinion is important, it's only one of several important considerations. Your age and maturity are important factors. The older you are, the more weight your parents and the court will probably give to your opinions about how much time you want to spend with each parent and where you want to live.

Where can I find information about separation and divorce for kids?

If you have more questions, you may want to look at the Justice Education Society's Families Change website. It contains guides about separation and divorce for children and teenagers.

Their Legal Rights for Youth website has different topics on how the law applies to youth, including age-based legal rights, family break-up, work, driving, medical rights, mental health, abuse and sexual assault, crime, and online safety.

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