Should children have more say in child custody decisions?

One of the most enduring debates in divorce law and child custody matters involves how much say a child of divorcing parents should have when it comes to how much time the child should spend with each parent. Georgia child custody lawyers and judges agree that a child’s needs should come first when creating a parenting plan, but a child’s needs vary from case to case, and they change over time as children develop their own interests and relationships.

Before divorce, parents shift child-rearing responsibilities based on their day-to-day schedules and the family’s needs. After divorce, strained relationships and inaccessibility can prevent many parents from communicating about how best to accommodate a child’s growing need to spend more time hanging out with peers and participating in sports, music and other interests.

A children’s rights advocate has recommended that children over the age of seven be allowed to provide input on parenting plans and that parents, attorneys and judges consider a child’s feedback when establishing a plan. Because a child’s needs change over time, advocates also recommend a mandatory review of the parenting plan every two years. At the review, which would be facilitated by a mediator, a child would have a chance to speak privately with the mediator, in a recorded session, about his or her needs. By removing the parents from this process, a child might communicate more openly and be less likely to feel guilty about expressing a preference to spend more time with one parent or the other.

Under the advocate’s proposal, the mediator would base changes to the parenting plan on the child’s wishes, as long as at least one parent agrees to those wishes. A mediator would give little weight to the recommendations of judges and experts if they conflicted with the child’s wishes.

Source: New York Times, “In whose best interests?” Beth Bethlehem, May 19, 2012

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