If you have found yourself involved in court proceedings about the living arrangements for your children, it is not uncommon for someone to ask the question “do the kids get to have their say about what they want?” Or “how old do they need to be to be able to decide where they live”?
The short answer to the first question is “yes they do have a say if they’re old enough” and to the second question “ technically ,18 years old”.
One of the factors that must be taken into account in deciding which parent they are to live with and how much time they spend with their other parent, are the children’s views.
Obviously the weight to be given to those views is dependent upon several things and your individual family situation. They only sometimes determine the outcome.
Some of the more important considerations include:
- The age and maturity of the children.
- How strongly they hold any view they are expressing.
- Whether those views have been influenced by one parent or another.
- Whether those views are otherwise consistent with what would ordinarily be considered to be in their best interest.
- Whether giving sway to what they want would result in separating them from their siblings.
Whilst each child is different and needs to be individually considered, as a general rule of thumb, once they reach 9 or 10 years old, their views are starting to have significance about where they live and how often they spend time with their other parent.
Whilst technically children remain children until they are 18 years old, the court is usually not going to tell a 14 or 15-year-old that they have to live with one parent when they strongly wish to live with the other.
The way this information is put to both parents and the court is through the preparation of a family report and/or the appointment of an Independant Children’s Lawyer.
A family report is prepared by a psychologist or social worker specialising in child and family issues, employed by the court. They are known as a Family Consultant.
Their role is to help you and your former partner to resolve your dispute and to assist and advise each of you and the court about your family and what they believe would be the best parenting arrangements for your children in the circumstances.
This can involve one or more conferences with the Family Consultant and they will in appropriate cases speak with your children.
This is where your children are able to say what they feel and want, but be warned this is not an opportunity for a parent to try and influence what your children will say as this is quickly and easily spotted and may backfire badly.
Most times the Family Consultant will try to work out the views and experiences of your children and to include those in the report, particularly if they are old enough or mature enough for those views to be given consideration.
There is no speaking “off the record”.
Also depending on your children’s age and the special circumstances of your case, the court may appoint a lawyer to represent what they believe to be in your children’s best interests.
This lawyer is known as the Independant Children’s Lawyer.
This does not mean that they argue a position that your children asks them to in the same way as your lawyer does for you.
What it does mean is that they are independent, they investigate the various claims and counterclaims, they listen to what your children have to say if they are old enough for their views to be properly considered and they then decide what they believe to be in children’s best interests and then tell the judge.