The long-term impact of divorce on children is not related to the fact of the divorce as much as the degree to which children are exposed to conflict. Children who are exposed to parental conflict after separation adjust more poorly to their new situation and suffer more negative long-term effects. However, it is also important for separating parents to listen to what their children have to say, and even more important for those parents to hear the emotions and meaning behind the children’s words. The key to this balance is to listen to the children’s opinion without involving them in the conflict or using them as foot soldiers in the war on the other spouse.
A child’s wishes do not determine any matter before a Family Court. No child should think that he or she gets to make the important decisions after his or her parents separate. It is important to note that when a court or arbitrator has to decide custody and access issues, the opinion of the children is only one of at least eight factors that the court must consider. The opinion of young children has little influence on the court. The opinion of teenagers, who have the physical ability to decide where they are going to live, has much greater influence on a court, but is still not determinative. Judges give no weight to a child’s expressed views where the child is only a mouthpiece for one parent, or possibly brain washed.
Dragging a child to court to speak to a judge is still a bad idea. Few things anger judges more than a parent deliberately involving a child in the conflict. Judges will only consider interviewing a child when it is clear that child wants to be heard in the process. If that interview makes it clear to the judge that the child has been put up to it by a parent, that parent should not expect a favourable outcome in the court case. On the other hand, the independent and carefully considered opinions of a child can be quite influential on a judge in a custody-access case.
John P. Schuman is certified a specialist in family law. He is an experienced and respected family lawyer, education lawyer and children’s rights lawyer at Devry Smith Frank LLP. He has earned the respect of his clients, judges, mediators and arbitrators for his sensible approach to resolving family law issues, his concern for children, and his understanding of complex financial matters. Contact John at (416) 446-5080.