By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Sometimes parents involve their children in custody, residency and access matters
hoping the opinion of the child sways the outcome. At other times, children
may seek to initiate a change themselves. The child’s desire may be due
to conflict with a parent; seeking to be closer to a particular school or friends;
or even seeking to avoid reasonable parental expectations looking instead to
live with the parent with whom they have greater albeit inappropriate freedoms.
Thus children sometimes wonder about their influence in such matters too.
Generally, custody, residency and access decisions are matters for parents
to decide. When they are unable to reach a decision between themselves, parents
may turn to a counselor for guidance. If that is unsuccessful, parents may then
turn to a mediator and if that is unsuccessful, they may turn to the court.
With regard to the input of children, the older the child, they more weight
their input can have in the decision making process.
Often the age of twelve is considered a turning point when the opinion of a
child may begin to truly give added weight to these decisions. However, there
is nothing magical or automatic about that number. Maturity of the child, the
situation and parental influence will also be important factors, not to mention
the needs of the child and the respective parent’s ability to meet those
needs appropriately and in a timely fashion. Therefore, being minors, the decision
still remains the hands of adults, be they the parents, professionals or Courts.
Parents are always cautioned against involving their children in custody, residency
or access decisions.
In the event a parent influences a child, the child may feel in a bind, unable
to resist the influence of the parent and not wanting to undermine their relationship
with the other parent. Hence influencing a child only adds to their psychological
and emotional distress living between their separated parents. In these circumstances,
parents must ask themselves if what they are doing is truly for the child or
their own interest.
From the child’s perspective there can be all sorts of legitimate reasons
to alter their residency between separated parents. However the child may not
be privy as to how the custody, residency or access decisions were arrived at
in the first place. Hence their view of the situation may not be fully informed.
So well children may form a reasonable argument in view of their desire, it
still remains between the parents to discuss and reach a decision.
Whether child initiated or parent initiated, parents are encouraged to sit
down with each other and the older child and if unable to resolve matters between
themselves, consult a counselor, mediator or lawyer to aid in their decision
Counselors or mediators who work for an agency may have long waiting lists
for service. Those who are in private practice, where the parents pay for service,
are generally more readily available. While parents may consult with the older
child, hopefully in the end they will keep the actual decision making process