The recent California Supreme Court decision in Marriage of Brown and Yana reminds me of the old joke that goes like this: “Where does the 800-pound gorilla sit?” The answer is, “Anywhere it wants to.”
Marriage of Brown and Yana involved a divorced mom’s plan to move from San Luis Obispo County to Las Vegas, Nevada with their 12-year-old son Cameron and mom’s children with her new husband. Dad opposed the move and the inevitable move-away battle began in the trial court. The trial court appointed an attorney for Cameron, who reported that Cameron was “a conflicted young man” who said “different things at different times, based upon who he happened to be with at the time.”
At the end of the day, mom got to move with Cameron and her new husband to Las Vegas. As the case wound its way through the legal system, and all the way up to the California Supreme Court, little Cameron became a not so little teenager. Cameron apparently decided he preferred to leave Las Vegas to live back in San Luis Obispo County, so he moved back and began living with his dad. The 800-pound gorilla made his choice.
Does this mean that 12-year-old children have the final say regarding which divorced parent they want to live with? As far as the law is concerned, the answer is probably no. Remember, however, that Cameron became a teenager while this case went from the trial court to the California Supreme Court, and that changed everything from a practical standpoint.
California Family Code Section 3042 provides that courts shall consider the preference of a child in making custody orders if that child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody. The practical implication of this Code Section is that teenage children become the 800-pound gorillas in divorce and post-dovorce cases. Something to think about before spending the time, money and emotional capital fighting over custody of your teenage children. An alternative for families in confilict with teenage children is family counseling.