Caught in the Middle – Children’s Voices in Disputes About Parenting
Without a doubt, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive from clients is “When can my child decide who they want to live with?”
At a certain age, children’s views and preferences about their parenting arrangements are given more weight and consideration. There is no magic age at which this occurs. Some children are very mature and articulate at 11 while there are some 14 years old who may be less mature and unable to state clearly his or her views and preferences. Every child is different – there is no one size fits all answer to this question.
Regardless of the child’s age or maturity, I always tell my clients that children have a voice, not a choice. Certainly from a legal perspective, if a matter is before the court, a child’s wishes, as articulate as they may be, are not determinative of the outcome but simply one factor out of many that will be considered in determining what parenting plan is in the child’s best interests. From a psychological and developmental perspective, many professionals warn against the burden placed on children if they feel that they are the ones to decide the parenting schedule and they have to choose between their parents.
If you are involved in a dispute over parenting and you believe that your child’s voice should be heard, there are a variety of ways to independently ascertain views and preferences of children. This will help to ensure that the views presented are the true wishes of the children and not a reflection of the influence of a parent. Some of these options include:
- Requesting that the Office of the Children’s lawyer be appointed to represent the child;
- Privately retaining a lawyer to ascertain the wishes of the child; or
- Obtaining a Voice of the Child Report.
It is important in any separation that parents don’t lost sight of what’s in the best interests of their children – even when that may not be what an individual parent wants. Further, while it’s important that children’s voices are heard, it must be done in such a way that it does not place them in the middle of the dispute between the parents