One of the many issues surrounding divorce in which there are legal and psychological experts on all sides is whether children should have a say in the parenting plan developed by their parents. If they should, how much input should they have?
Do Kids Really Want Their Input Considered?
It may seem like a given for many parents that their children's preferences for where they want to live and how they want to divide their time between parents will be considered. However, some experts say that by giving kids any input, parents are putting them in the middle of their divorce. Kids may feel that they're being asked to choose a favorite parent.
Interestingly, in one study involving kids who had parents disputing custody, researchers found that based on the responses of the kids (ages 7 to 17), "many children want to be heard and want a say in how they are to be involved in the legal process, but few want to make the decisions about their future."
For example, kids may want to understand who will be making the ultimate decisions about their future. Will their parents be working out the parenting plan together, or will it be put in the hands of a judge to decide? Will there be input from a therapist?
How to Determine Whether Your Kids Should Have a Say
For parents who want to consider their kids' input on their parenting plan, whether they do it before drafting the plan or after, they need to consider whether they can and should be involved. This depends in large part on the children's age and maturity level.
It's also essential to consider the temperament of a child as well as the family dynamics as a whole. When parents have a contentious relationship with one another or with a child, kids may fear being punished or abandoned by the parent they don't favor. Further, when children are particularly sensitive, no matter what their age, putting any responsibility for making these choices in their hands could contribute to the emotional turmoil of the divorce for them.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that children should always be able to discuss their questions, concerns and fears about their parents' divorce and what it will mean for them - - even if they aren't given a say in the parenting plan. Feeling reassured that their parents are placing their well-being front and center can give them a sense of security about their own future.
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