When par­ents are locked in dragged out cus­tody bat­tle

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - GARY DIRENFELD

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.

Have a par­ent­ing or re­la­tion­ship ques­tion? Send it in a brief email to ques­tion@your­so­cial­worker.com. Due to the vol­ume of mail, not all ques­tions will re­ceive a re­ply.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.