Adults dealing with their own issues can overlook how divorce affects the children. Actions meant to protect themselves from (or retaliate against) their former partner could damage the child. That’s why there’s a such thing as children’s rights in a divorce. From my experience at Paula Lock Smyth Law Offices with divorce and child custody cases, following are my insights into children’s rights:
Children’s Bill of Rights
This document list things children should have rights to do/be during or after their parent’s divorce. It’s written from a child’s perspective and gives adults things to stop and think about while in the middle of their own tough situation. Here’s a summary of children’s rights the document addresses:
- Right to resume a relationship with both parents.
- Right to be treated as a human being with our own feelings, needs, and ideas.
- Right to continue receiving care and guidance from both parents.
- Right to appreciate each parent without one parent bashing the other.
- Right to show love, affection, and respect to each parent without fear of the other parent’s reaction.
- Right to know the child is not accountable for the parents’ decision to live separately.
- Right to not be the parent’s subject of argument.
- Right to honest answer about how the family is changing.
- Right to consistent visitation and explanations for cancellations from both parents.
- Right to stress free relationships with both parents without being a source of manipulation.
Children’s Participation in Divorce Court Cases
If requested by a party to the suit, children 12 years or older must be interviewed by the judge during a divorce case. Children younger than 12 can still have a voice. If appropriate, children may have their own legal representation. The judge will decide if an Attorney Ad Litem or Amicus Attorney should be appointed to represent the them. Generally, a parent is presumed to adequately represent their children’s legal interests.
Children’s Rights to Decide Which Parent They Want to Live With
Kids can state their preference on which parent they prefer to live with, although the final decision is still up to the judge. According to the family code, the judge must consider when a child 12 or older voices their desire to live with one parent over the other. At the end of the day, the judge will make a decision about residence based on what’s best for the child.
Sometimes, the parent with whom the child wants to live is the best choice, but it can also go the other way. I’ve had a recent experience in one of my own cases. The child wanted to live with one parent but the judge felt the other parent would be a better fit for a teenager. The arrangement ended up working out well for my client and for the child.