This is a very tough question. For some reason, many separating couples believe that at some magical age, the children should have the right to decide which parent they will live with after separation. Certainly, I would agree that there are many instances where children should be asked to meaningfully participate in decisions being made about their family. But for children to have the final decision-making authority would be wrong.
Children just want to love and be loved by both parents. Research shows that they don’t want to be final decision-makers, but they do want to express their opinion about how their lives will fit into a two-household family. If your children express their opinions unsolicited, listen to them without giving them the feeling that they will need to make any decisions. Even if their views are not ultimately followed, it’s important to make them feel heard.
Sometimes a counsellor can become involved to assist in bringing out the children’s wishes without them feeling as though they are being asked to choose sides. This specialist may be used in court settings under the guise of a “custody evaluation” or in non-adversarial models (Collaborative Law / Mediation) wherein this specialist would be brought into the discussions with parents and the professionals as another team member who could assist in helping the parties to arrive at a solution that is child-centred.
Whatever you do, be certain to help your children feel as though they are “at the centre” of your family decision rather than being “in the middle” – don’t create a tug-of-war! There is a difference between children expressing their views and wishes, and them having the decision-making power; keep it to the former and you will be on your way to making the best decisions for your family.
Feel free to contact Stephanie to answer your questions or to set up a consultation.