Giving Children A Voice In Divorce

A question that comes up from time to time is: how much should the children be given a voice in the divorce?

This generally relates to the parenting plan. I cannot think of issues related to the financial settlement where this would generally be a question, although some issues related to the parenting plan may have some impact on financial decisions, and vice versa, such as where the parents are going to live after the divorce.

This is certainly an issue that is going to vary greatly between families. Some parents will prefer to keep the children out of the divorce process entirely, and some children really would not want to be put in the position of having to state any preferences. Other parents will feel that it is important to make sure that the children are heard, and some children do want to be heard.

If you do want to give your children some voice in the process, I think there are two important principles to keep in mind:

First, it is generally best to make it clear that while you want to listen to what they have to say, the parents will be making any final decisions.

This actually makes it easier for the children to say what is on their minds, since they are not being asked to make decisions. It also avoids the parents being boxed in by the children stating preferences that the parents do not believe are best. It gives the parents the freedom to craft an agreement that takes into consideration both their own views as well as any concerns or opinions expressed by the children.

The second principle is that the child should not be asked questions that put them in a position of expressing loyalties between the parents.

The children are generally very attached to both parents, even when the parents see themselves in more good spouse/bad spouse terms. A continued good relationship with both parents is important to the children’s long term development and mental well being.

Asking a question such as which parent they want to live with, or how much time they would like to spend with each parent, is really asking them to choose between their parents; which is not only a terrible position for them to be put in, but also could be detrimental to their relationship with whichever parent comes out the loser on the choice.

A better way to allow the children a voice with regard to schedule is simply to ask them if they have any input about the parenting schedule. This makes room for them to say something if there really is something they want to say (some teens may have some strong opinions related to how their own schedules will be affected) without putting them on the spot to make choices.