Children may be asked about their preferred living arrangements, if a child custody dispute is decided before a judge. Courts listen but do not necessarily bend to a child’s desires for custody or visitation changes. The child’s best interests sometimes do not match the child’s immediate preferences.
Recently, new expert criticism for the way parents and judges handle custody and visitation cases has been discussed. Some family counselors feel children’s opinions are being undervalued. Therapists with experience working with children during custody dispute say parenting plans should be updated regularly to accommodate a child’s growth.
Many changes occur in a household after one parent leaves a family home. Moving from full time parenthood to a set visitation schedule is not easy for noncustodial parents. The stress of dividing child custody is an event many parents do not want to repeat.
Some behavioral experts say custody arrangements should be reviewed regularly. Children grow, change and develop expanded lives that may not fit parenting plans made when they were younger.
Some family therapists also say that the opinions of children, who may have been too small to speak to a judge when their parents divorced, should be heard. Parents and courts argue that children should not have the power to manipulate decisions made by adults who presumably know what is better for them.
A recently published article by a veteran family counselor suggests that parenting plans should be reviewed every other year. The counselor believes that children and ex-spouses are harmed by inflexible parenting agreements that fail to grow as children do.
The therapist contends that families are trying to operate around outdated parenting plans, after the needs of all parties have changed. She suggests that children, from age 7 to adulthood, periodically should be able to contribute opinions about shared custody.
Squelching a child’s opinion can create resentment, according to the family expert. In some cases, children act out when they feel powerless about how often and when to be with parents. The therapist recommends that courts and parents take a hard look at the way custody and visitations are decided and think about incorporating a child’s viewpoint.