Lawyers often talk about a child’s preference as if it is the deciding factor in resolving separation disputes. This tends to encourage parents to rely on, and even cultivate children’s opinions that may or may not be independent. In many, if not most, Western countries, the law is obliged to take into account children’s wishes, particularly with older children, and judges do not ordinarily make orders that go against them. But the law usually has in place a system whereby children are assessed by psychologists who can independently interpret their wishes and give them the appropriate weight; this in turn is communicated to the court via an independent legal representative. (However, this only occurs in highly contentious cases; and a court is very unlikely to order a shared parenting agreement in this situation because in a case this factious, there is likely to be a lack of parental cooperation and/or an unwillingness to commit to a parenting plan.) Involving children in counseling and mediation is a relatively new idea, and we don’t know much yet about the relationship between children’s involvement in these processes and long-term outcomes. Our experience tells us and studies in the United States confirm it that children, as well as adults, benefit from programs that help them cope with the changes in their lives due to their parents’ separation.
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