A child’s wishes and preferences are one of many relevant factors that a court will take into account when determining a child’s best interests. However, their wishes aren’t the only consideration or necessarily determinative of custody and access.
In determining the weight to be given to a child’s wishes and preferences, a judge will consider the age and maturity of the child and whether the child has been improperly influenced in reaching his or her conclusion. A judge will give more weight to the expressed wishes of a child who is 16 years old than a 10 year old, for example.
Parental Alienation – Courts are becoming more aware of the occurrence of parental alienation after parents have separated. There are many ways in which one parent could be actively alienating the children from the other parent. They could be telling the children that the other parent is to blame for the relationship breakdown and expressing their anger and negative feelings towards the other parent to the children, resulting in the children also blaming the other parent for the marriage breakdown. Other examples include purposely cancelling the other parent’s time with the children and restricting the amount of contact between the children and the other parent.
The effects of parental alienation are serious and not in the children’s best interests. In some cases, when the judge determined there had clearly been parental alienation, the judge actually took custody away from the alienating parent and instead ordered that the alienating parent have restricted and supervised access to the children.
In cases involving parental alienation you should be aware of the possibility that the child’s stated wishes may have been unduly influenced by one of the parents and therefore may not have been arrived at independently.
Bottom line, don’t engage in this parental alienation. It kills your kids. It kills the alienated parent. And, I have it on good authority that alienators don’t go to heaven. This is an area for law reform and judicial pro-action. Alienators need to know that there will be consequences. But don’t hold your breath for either. There’s nothing slower than law reform and nothing less likely than judicial pro-action.
Parents Working Together – For your kids’ sake, where they’re concerned, work together as a team even if you can’t stand each other. Research studies show that the children of separated or divorced parents fare best when both of their parents work together to promote and maximize the involvement of each other in all aspects of the children’s lives.
The focus isn’t on how much time each parent shares with the children but on how the parents share the functions of childcare and upbringing and the quality of the time spent between the children and each parent.
Parenting Plans – Courts and lawyers are promoting the use of comprehensive parenting plans which set out arrangements for the parenting of children. For those amongst our esteemed student body that can’t even work together to parent their children, a parenting plan is an excellent last resort short of putting your children up for adoption (which may ultimately serve their best interests better than a parenting plan for warring parents). Frequently, social workers as “parenting plan coordinators” are retained to help parents prepare and implement these plans.
There are certain key elements that should be contained in a parenting plan.
– Where the child will be living and when;
– Who’ll be responsible for the day-to-day decisions involving the children; and
– Who’ll be responsible for major decisions concerning the children’s welfare, including their education, health, and extracurricular activities.
If you and your spouse aren’t able to prepare a parenting plan together, you should prepare one yourself to clarify your position on the issue of custody and access.
Best Interests of the Child – Whether you and your spouse are able to agree on the custody and access arrangements for your children or whether you have to commence a court application, the underlying principle that should be guiding you is the “best interests” of your children. Keep in mind that what you believe is in the best interests of your children will not always be what a judge believes is in their best interests. So, before you delegate the decision to decide what’s best for your children to a total stranger (the judge), think carefully about working things out with your ex, at least where custody and access are concerned.