My parents are unmarried. Can I choose which one I live with?

So my parents were unmarried and I’ve been in custody of my mother. I want to be with my dad however, how does everything work so I can live with him?

If you just tell Mom you want to live with Dad and she doesn’t object, you can do that. It’s perfectly legal. But living with Dad when your Dad has not been legally declared to be your father and has not been court-ordered to have you in his custody can lead to some inconveniences and legal impediments. No one really questions whether a woman is a mother of a child the woman claims as her own, but many people think a man who can’t “prove” he’s a child’s father might be a kidnapper. Some schools may not allow your father to enroll you unless he has a legal document officially showing him to be your father.

And if your mother and father fight over child custody, then the best thing to do (and by “best” I don’t mean easy or fun, but just the prudent course of action) may be filing a paternity action and getting court orders.

Assuming there is no current court order awarding custody of you to either or both of your parents, then (in Utah, where I practice law):

  1. Your mother, your father, or both of them need to file a petition with the court seeking orders that establish paternity (so that your father is legally recognized as your father), award custody (either to Mom, to Dad, or to Mom and Dad jointly), make awards of holiday and summer parent-time, and make awards of financial child support;
  2. get a court decree of paternity and awards of child custody, holiday and summer parent-time, and financial child support; and then
  3. comply with the decree of paternity and awards of child custody, holiday and summer parent-time, and financial child support.

For you to end up spending the majority of overnights in your father’s custody, he would need to be awarded sole or primary custody of you. To do that, he would have to petition for sole custody, get an order from the court awarding him full custody, and then, if your mother refused to comply with the court order, obtain the help of the court and police to enforce the court’s order.

When it comes to what kind of influence your preferences might have on the child custody award, this is the policy in Utah:

Utah Code § 30-3-10(1)(e):

The court may inquire of a child and take into consideration the child’s desires regarding future custody or parent-time schedules, but the expressed desires are not controlling and the court may determine the child’s custody or parent-time otherwise. The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor.

Click here to read about how the process works: Utah Uniform Parentage Act

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