Posted by wjadmin — filed in Family Law
When do children get to decide which Parent they want to live with?
The theme of recent posts is the misunderstandings that people have in the area of family law that have acquired some general acceptance in society. Family law and divorce lawyers deal with these misconceptions all the time.
One misconception is the age at which children get to decide which parent they want to live with in a separation. Many people believe that it is 12 years old. This is not necessarily true.
The age of 12 is an important date, but 12 year old children do not get to decide where to live. Family law lawyers are told by child psychologists that at about the age of 12 children can acquire enough cognitive development to be asked the question. In other words, their opinion becomes relevant, but it will be not determinative at 12 or even 13. Also, children develop at different rates so some 12 years may not have formed the cognitive development to even be asked the question.
One always has to question, regardless of age, whether it is wise to be involving children in a parenting dispute at all. Children cannot and should run a household. They cannot and should not make parenting decisions. They are children, not adults, and these are adult issues. It is just that simple.
Before the age of 12 it is generally understood that children’s opinions are not relevant. They are too young to have any sort of say. In fact, in my opinion, it is unfair and not in the best interests of the children to even ask. It may do more harm than good. Parents may think that they are doing a good thing by getting their child involved, but the psychologists I have talked to say it can actually be quite harmful. Children will often tell both parents the exact same thing, that they want to live with them. At that age saying that is not a contradictory statement: they do want to live with both parents.
I attended a conference on this topic a couple years back and psychologists tend to agree that young children tend to make statements that adults may view as contradictory, but to the child they are not. Children will often tell their parents what they want to hear. They love the their parents and want to please them in a very stressful time such as separation. Also children tend to sympathize with the parent in which care they are at that particular moment time. If they feel a parent is stressed and wanting them to answer is a specific way then they will answer a question the way they feel the parent wants them to answer. They are telling the truth, but they may be saying the same thing to both parents. This will create a great deal of stress for young children and it is not in their best interests to be brought into this situation. If parents then use this information to justify denying access or change access or bring court applications then this can cause serious distress to a child.
Alberta has a great program for spearating parents called the “Parenting After Separation Course”. It is free and mandatory in many circusmtances if the parents are in the court system. It teaches important lessons for parents.