This is a question often asked by my clients. Naturally, most parents want the best for their children and want to respect their wishes particularly during a difficult time when their parents are separating.
Usually the parent that is posing the question tells me that they have been told by their child that they want to live with that parent. I have no reason to believe that it is not the case but it may also be the case that the same child is telling the other parent that they also want to live with them. After all, children generally do not want to disappoint their parents. Sometimes it is much easier for them to tell their parent what they think they want to hear rather than what they really want.
Most of the time, while we like to respect the wishes of our children, it is not always appropriate to allow them to do what they want. For example, a fifteen year old son may say he wants to go clubbing with his new 18 year old mates on Friday night but no parent would allow it to happen.
That is why as parents, we are charged with the role of making decisions for our children that are best for them even when it is unpopular. It is more challenging doing this in separated families.
The Family Law Act provides a number of things that the Family Court needs to consider in determining the best interest of the children. One of the considerations is any views expressed by the child and any factors (such as the child’s maturity or level of understanding) that the court thinks are relevant to the weight it should give to the child’s views.
Some children may not have the sufficient maturity to understand what a change to their residence would mean. For example, they may go to one parents place on the weekends to do ‘fun things’ but have to do chores and homework in their main home. They don’t necessarily appreciate that living in the fun house full time means that they will still need to do their homework and chores.
It is important to note that the views expressed by children are only one out of a total of 16 considerations that the Family Court is required to consider.
So, while on the face of it, asking a child which house the want to live in seems an appealing way to resolve a difficult question, the reality is that the practical circumstances are often more complex and need greater consideration.