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Should children have input into their "best interests"?

In Michigan, divorce courts making child custody decisions say that they are making those rulings after determining the best interests of the child. Many agree, however, that what those best interests are can often change over time. Some have suggested that, especially as they grow and mature, the children themselves should have more influence over what is in their best interest.

Critics of the current method of determining child custody arrangements and schedules argue that children should not be denied of their input into the situation. It can make the children feel incapable of influencing significant issues that greatly impact their daily lives. Parenting plans establish which parent a child will live with, and for how long, and when they will spend days with the other parent. These plans frequently take into account the scheduling needs of the two parents as they relate to work, school, or other obligations.

Because parents often prefer not to disturb settled arrangements or get embroiled in further court proceedings to modify parenting plans, existing arrangements may seem set in stone. Often, they may go unchanged until after a child is 18. This can be frustrating to a child whose needs have changed.

A teenager, for instance, may wish to spend more time over the weekend with friends from school or the community than a 5-year-old child does. But a parenting plan which requires that they spend weekends in the home of the non-custodial parent may make that difficult.

Opinions differ as to how much input children should have into custody arrangements and schedules. Some suggest that, at a minimum, there should at least be periodic review of existing arrangements. This process would give at least some weight to a child's preferences, perhaps with the child able to express those in private with an attorney.

Determining custody of a child can be difficult. Parents may want to speak with their child, depending on the child's age, and discuss custody arrangements. Ongoing discussion may be beneficial, as well. As a child grows up, his or her opinions and needs may change dramatically.

Source: The New York Times, "In Whose Best Interests?" Ruth Bettelheim, May 19, 2012

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