Idaho Child Custody Rights: A Child's Right to Decide

By Cindy Chung

Child with parents

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In Idaho, parents may have joint custody, which allows both to make important decisions concerning the child and spend time with the child. If the judge declines to award joint custody, he must give a reason. In some cases, the child may have a preference regarding custody; Idaho law allows the courts to consider the child's wishes. However, because children often feel the stress and tension of a custody dispute or a divorce, some parents may prefer to avoid placing their children in the middle of a conflict.

Custody by Court Order

If parents can't agree to the terms of a custody and visitation arrangement, an Idaho state court will need to make the decision. The judge must make a decision based on Idaho's legal standard for child custody, which is the same as in all states: the best interests of the child. As part of the court proceedings, the judge may order a custody evaluation, request a home study or confer with expert witnesses. A custody evaluation or home study often requires a social worker or another professional to meet with the child. During these steps, the child might express an opinion regarding custody and visitation to the expert who will later present his recommendations to the court. In addition, the court must consider a number of custody factors established by state law. These factors include each parent's wishes and character and the child's relationship with each parent and other family members.

Child’s Preference in Custody Proceedings

Some children have strong preferences regarding their parents' custody rights and want the court to consider their wishes. When determining the child's best interests in a custody disagreement, the judge may consider "all relevant factors" listed in the Idaho statutes. These factors include the child's wishes regarding custody or the child's residence. However, the law doesn't set a requirement for the child's age before the judge may consider the child's wishes. In general, a judge is more likely to consider the wishes of an older or more mature child.

Child’s Rights and Grandparent Visitation

Idaho's grandparent visitation laws allow a grandparent to request visitation with a grandchild, even if a custodial parent objects. The court may grant the request if the grandparent can show that visitation is in the child's best interests. The current version of the law doesn't require the court to consider the child's preferences regarding grandparents. In 2011, however, the Idaho Senate considered a change to the law that would include a list of factors to consider for grandparent visitation, namely that courts may consider a grandchild's wishes if the child is at least 12 years old.

Custody by Agreement

Cooperative parents may be able to avoid a court dispute in their custody proceedings if they can negotiate their own agreement. Parents may choose to participate in Idaho family court services, which often include mediation services and parenting classes. In some cases, the judge might require mediation or a parenting class. Neutral mediators generally encourage parents to work together and to prioritize their children’s best interests over their own preferences. A child may have a preference regarding custody, but the parents can agree to the custody terms of their choosing as long as an Idaho court approves their agreed-upon parenting plan. Before approving the parents’ agreement, the court must determine whether the agreement meets the state’s legal standard for a custody arrangement by protecting the children’s best interests.