The decision about with whom children will reside primarily may be a stressful one and can add to the ongoing conflicts between spouses. Therefore, you may be tempted to defer to your children to avoid the conflict and decision making. It is true that for older children (usually ten years or older), the court will consider where your child wants to live. This does not mean that you should ask your child with whom he or she wants to live. It is not uncommon for children to tell both parents that they wish to live with them; sometimes they change their minds based on whomever they are speaking to at that very moment. This may be a tactic to make each parent feel good, or the child may genuinely change his mind when with each parent. Children may choose the parent that they feel the most sorry for, scared of, or who has the least restrictive household rules. Your child is worried enough about the divorce situation without your adding to his concerns by asking him to choose between two parents. Click here for an article on living arrangements after divorce.
If a child is given this decision, you run the risk of invoking guilt toward the parent that was not chosen. In addition, the parent not chosen could punish the child by showing displeasure. Down the road, your children may become angry with you for passing this responsibility on to them, when it is one decision they wish you had made.
However, children often do have a preference, based more on their own needs for familiarity within their home and neighborhood than on a choice of one parent over another. They want to be near their friends, with the parent who has the best computer, with the parent who has more time to spend, or the parent whose home is most conducive to sleep overs with friends. Children can tell you where they’d like to live instead of with whom and indicates that they want to be heard about WHAT matters to them, not who. Having their opinions considered makes them feel included, valued, and recognized as persons with independent needs.
Talk to your children along with your former spouse, and encourage them to express their preferences for schedule rather than place, and be clear that the adults will make the final decisions. For more on living arrangements after divorce, click here.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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