When parents are locked in dragged out custody battle
Q: At what age can children decide which parent they want to live with? We have been separated four years and my ex won’t respect our children’s decision. It continually goes back to court.
A: You are describing a nightmare. Separated parents, in court for years fighting over where their children will live, are creating the stage four of family cancers. Such situations can create behavioural and mental health problems for the children.
Often, the underlying issues are parents in bitter dispute, allegations of abuse, maltreatment or neglect — and alternate allegations of one parent bent on destroying the other’s relationship with the kids.
Because of the intensity of these disputes and, often, lack of tangible evidence, it is difficult for helpers to truly be of assistance. Like end stage cancers, these scenarios are often untreatable. Or the treatments that may be applied tend to be intrusive and expensive with guarded probabilities of success.
Let’s put the question in another context, say, at what age can a child quit school. The thinking would be: of course the child must attend school. It’s the same for their relationships with parents. With such a major decision, this remains a matter for the adults to sort out.
Notwithstanding all of this, courts tend to give children’s views and preferences more weight with age. When there are teenaged children, courts recognize they are likely to do as they wish and are unlikely to jail the teen or their parent for noncompliance in a custody arrangement.
Rather than going to court or letting children make such far-reaching decisions, parents should sort out their differences and free their family from being locked in that conflict.
Consider that from a child’s perspective, they are half of each parent. So if they feel a need to reject a parent, they are also faced with rejecting half of who they are. We want children to feel whole and intact. That is why having reasonable relationships with both parents is important.
I encourage parents to instead work hard in therapy to resolve the issues that gave rise to these terrible situations.
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