Children eager to have say on custody: study

The Age (Australia) June 23, 2009

THEY are the innocent onlookers caught up in their parents’ bitter conflict. But research suggests children of separating couples usually want to have some say in post-marital arrangements — they just don’t want to be forced to choose between their parents. The extent to which children are involved in making decisions about where they live and how much time they spend with each parent depends to some extent on how much their parents allow it.

But an Australian study suggests that although most children want to be part of the discussion, they concede that it puts them in a “difficult position”. They were unwilling or unable to choose between their parents because they were concerned about the consequences of choosing, particularly about being unfair or upsetting one of their parents. Only in cases involving allegations of violence or abuse did children have strong views about choosing between parents. Most parents thought it was reasonable for their children to have a say, but about half thought children were possible victims of manipulation by the other parent or, less commonly, “potential manipulators”. Co-author Patrick Parkinson, professor of family law at Sydney University, said it was important to listen to children’s voices and understand how they were experiencing the separation. But the ultimate decision should rest with the judge or parents, not the child, he said. The study, published this week in the journal Family Matters, is based on interviews with 90 parents and 47 children and teenagers.