Calling out for a voice for children in child custody disputes

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Custody on Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Here in Missouri, parents and courts are asked to devise child custody plans that hold the interests of the children above everyone else’s concerns and wishes.

However, as children get older, their needs evolve. Unfortunately, in many cases, child custody arrangements and visitation schedules don’t change along with the kids.

A family therapist writing in the New York Times argues that these situations make the “children feel helpless by denying them any influence over the arrangements that govern their lives.”

She argues that because parenting plans are often arrived at after emotionally charged processes that include tense negotiations, meetings and disputes, few couples have any interest in later revisiting that process. So a parenting plan devised when the child is, say eight years old, might well stay in place until the child is 18.

Obviously, over those years, most children are going to experience significant changes in interests, activities and needs. A teenager is often interested in spending time on weekends with friends rather than with a parent who might well live an hour or two away.

The therapist writes that kids often feel “conflicting loyalties and guilt over betraying whichever parent would lose out” if the child were to speak up and ask for a change in visitations more in line with a teenager’s interests.

The result, the therapist says, is that many kids suppress their needs in order to keep family friction to a minimum.

She writes that children ought to be allowed to participate in child custody arrangements and parenting plans, allowing them to make decisions (even decisions that can sometimes have negative consequences for them).

She says this participation “is vital for the growth and well-being of all children.”

To help you and your children navigate the difficult emotional and legal complexities of child custody arrangements, talk over your options with an experienced family law attorney.

Source: New York Times, “In Whose Best Interests?,” Ruth Bettelheim, May 19, 2012