Stop and Think Before You Ask Your Children Who They Wish to Live With
In determining who gets custody of the children, the wishes of the children are one of the most frequently cited factors. But how much weight should be given to the children’s preferences? Should the children’s vote be considered if they are under the continuous micro-management of their mother, or if they are consumed by the occasional generosity and carefree attitude of their father?
Most experts agree that it is useful to listen to what a child has to say, and to elicit their likes and dislikes, and their preferences, if they are mature enough to articulate this information in a meaningful way. But it is usually not appropriate to over-weigh the children’s opinions. Even older adolescents lack the ability to make long-term reasoned judgments about their care and custody.
In fact, much research indicates that kids don’t want to be the ultimate decision-makers. Yes, they want to be consulted; they want their issues to be addressed; they want their voices to be heard. But usually, they do not want to be responsible for making the ultimate custody decision. In most cases, kids don’t like the process.
It may ultimately be better to solicit the wishes of the children as part of a counseling session with a trained social worker, psychologist or other expert. A child may be more honest when asked about her preferences by somebody other than her mother or father.
So, while gathering information from the children about their wishes is important, relying exclusively on that information or placing the burden on the children to cast a deciding vote is counter-productive and ill-advised.
I welcome your thoughts or experiences with this issue.