By: Beth Andersen
Clients frequently ask us how to give their child a voice in a divorce or allocation of parental responsibilities proceeding.
Usually children do know a divorce is happening. They may have strong opinions about where they want to live, what parenting schedule they want to follow, and how to feel safe and protected in either parent’s home.
At the end of the day, however, they are children and NOT the judge deciding and decreeing how these issues are handled.
It helps to reassure them, “The adults will decide and let you know. Both of your parents care about you and will choose what is best for you.”
It may be hard to say these words when you are filled with animosity toward the other parent. Put your child ahead of you. Put their need to be reassured ahead of your desire to pass along your feelings of betrayal, fear, perhaps even hatred. Promoting a child to adult judge status will not fix these things anyway. That is adult work.
Two more things to keep in mind:
First, many children do not want to share their actual opinions with either parent. Many kids tell dad they want to live with him then tell mom the same thing. They want to please both of their parents. Having a counselor may help give them a place to vent, share and explore their own feelings. This works if they are willing to open up and talk. If they shut down, alternate therapies like art therapy, music therapy and play therapy can be helpful.
Second, children of different ages are going to weigh in in different ways.
Courts usually consider children of preschool and under too young to express an opinion though they may take note of which parent spent more time with the child and is a primary attachment.
Grade school children are considered as having an opinion, but courts watch out for statements that sound coached by a parent.
Middle school children and teens may have a voice but are not THE voice. Once children are driving and approaching 18, they often “vote with their feet” by going where they choose including with friends. Courts give them a higher consideration, especially when they are 17.
How exactly do children make their opinions known? Contrary to popular belief, Colorado does not have a certain age where children get to decide their own parenting time. Most Colorado courts are very reluctant, and usually unwilling, to let a child testify even if it is in private chambers with the judge. You cannot count on this happening.
Call us at 720-922-3880 for a free consult to get you in the right direction with your family law or divorce case to support you in doing what’s best for your child.
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