Doctrine of Teenage Discretion in a Nevada Custody Case

In a Nevada custody case, a judge may take into account a child’s preferences concerning custody and visitation, if a child is of suitable age and maturity to express their wishes. In most cases, the court considers a child’s preferences only when the child is a teenager. As such, the rule allowing a child to express their wishes is referred to as the doctrine of teenage discretion. There are limitations on application of the doctrine by a court. The outcome also depends on the specific facts in each case.

What Is the Nevada Doctrine of Teenage Discretion?

In a Nevada child custody case, the court’s overriding concern in matters of custody and visitation is determining what outcome is in the best interests of the child. Whether the judge is making the initial decision in a custody case or reviewing an existing order to determine whether it should be modified, the court takes a wide range of factors into account in deciding what is in a child’s best interests.

Parents sometimes think that when a child reaches a certain age, the judge will defer to the child’s preferences in deciding custody and visitation issues. In fact, it is rare for a judge to base decisions solely on a child’s wishes. The law requires the court to take many other considerations into account, such as the child’s emotional and physical health and well-being, educational opportunities, each parent’s ability to care for the child, and similar concerns.

Generally, Nevada courts consider a child who is a teenager to have sufficient age and maturity to express their preferences on matters of custody and visitation. While a court may be willing to honor a teenager’s discretion when both parents agree it is in the child’s best interests, the judge conducts a broader review in making the final decision.

There also are limitations on the doctrine of teenage discretion. A judge may disregard the child’s preferences if they are based on immature or self-serving reasons. In addition, a child usually cannot choose to completely sever a relationship with one of the parents. Typically, the child will be required to spend time with each parent.

If a teenager demonstrates sufficient maturity to express preferences on matters of custody and visitation, and the child’s wishes are reasonable, the judge may take those wishes into account in determining what arrangements are in the child’s best interests. For example, the court may take those preferences into account on issues such as dividing time between households. However, no child of any age is entitled to make those decisions on their own or has a guarantee that the court will defer to their preferences.

Revocation of Teenage Discretion

Even if the court grants a teenager discretion in determining details of custody and visitation, the child’s choices always remain subject to the court’s review. If there is an order giving the child discretion, each parent has an obligation to ensure that the child follows through on obligations imposed by the order.

If the child’s conduct does not comply with the order and is not in the child’s best interests, the court may revoke the discretion granted to the child. How the court rules in a specific situation involving potential revocation of teenage discretion depends entirely on the facts in the case. The judge will look to all factors relating to the best interests of the child. The maturity of the child’s decisions and conduct of both parents, as well as other factors, will be relevant to the judge’s decision.

If a parent feels a child is abusing their right to make decisions under the teenage discretion doctrine, the parent may file a motion with the court to review the prior custody order. If the situation is severe, the court may even hear such matters on an expedited basis.

Whether the judge will modify a custody order depends on a wide range of factors. If you are a parent considering asking for revocation of teenage discretion, discussing your situation with a knowledgeable family law attorney is an important first step in evaluating your options in the circumstances.

Talk With an Experienced Las Vegas Family Law Attorney

If you are in a custody situation where the age of your child may make the teenage discretion doctrine relevant to custody and visitation terms, you should discuss your circumstances with a knowledgeable family law attorney before you make any decisions about how to proceed. Whether you have an existing custody order, or are facing custody and visitation issues as part of a divorce, getting legal advice about how Nevada law applies to your circumstances is extremely important.

Las Vegas family law attorney Joseph Gersten helps clients with all types of domestic relations matters, including child custody. Your first consultation at The Gersten Law Firm is always free of charge. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.

Categories: Nevada Family Law