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England--"Jim Parton, of Families Need Fathers, said that, although children should be listened to, those interviewing them needed to be very skilled to ensure that they did not ask leading questions. 'With my son when he was asked, aged 5, ‘What do you consider to be your main home?' "He said, ‘I have mummy"s house and daddy"s house". The court welfare officer then asked him the question four more times and led him by the nose until he said, ‘Mummy"s house",' Mr Parton said." Back in 2005 Anthony Douglas, the head of the UK Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), stated that children as young as 7 should be allowed to decide which parent they want to live with in cases of divorce or separation. I'm appalled, and am happy to see that UK fatherhood groups criticized this idea. On a larger level, I think when kids are given too much say over custody arrangements, the result is that parents are afraid to properly discipline or set limits for their teenagers. They're afraid that if they do so, the child will want to go live with the other parent, who may be enticing them with a sweeter deal. I receive plenty of letters from both divorced fathers and mothers who say their former spouse has done this. I'm dubious about family courts even allowing children ages 12 or 14 to decide which parent they want to live with. Some children that age have the maturity to make a good decision, some don't. Also, kids can be easily manipulated and bribed, not to mention alienated or poisoned by one parent or another. The story from July 2005 is below. Thanks to Steve Bayliss. 'Let 7-year-olds choose between their parents' The Times, July 23, 2005 By Alexandra Frean, Social Affairs Correspondent CHILDREN as young as 7 should be allowed to decide which parent they want to live with in cases of divorce or separation, Anthony Douglas, the head of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), has said.The "wishes and needs' expressed by children, and not their parents, should be the starting point for settling residence and contact disputes, he said."Most children over the age of 7, 8 or 9, depending on their emotional development, will have a very clear view of what they want to happen. That view should stand unless there are safeguarding issues or some other overriding welfare issues."Children, when trusted and empowered, usually tell the truth. They will have thought about these issues very deeply. With their parents separating, they will be in a situation they don"t want to be in -- they won"t have voted for it."They will tell you what they want to happen. That should be your starting point,' Mr Douglas told The Times.Mr Douglas emphasised that, ideally, children should spend time with both parents, but should be allowed to decide who to live with most of the time.He acknowledged that asking children was difficult, but said that the real test of whether parents wanted what was in their children"s best interests was whether they would allow their children to have a say.Father"s groups reacted angrily to Mr Douglas"s comments, saying that they would be bound to favour mothers in disputed custody cases. Tony Coe, of the Equal Parenting Council, said that it was for parents to decide what was in children"s best interests. "Children should not be given the option to opt out of one parent any more than they are allowed to opt out of school or going to the dentist,' he said.Matt O"Connor, a spokesman for Fathers4Justice, said that Mr Douglas"s approach represented a gross abdication of responsibility on the part of Cafcass, which was set up in 2001 to co-ordinate the representation of children"s interests before the courts. "It could leave children feeling very guilty if they felt they had been responsible for driving one parent or other from their lives,' he said. Both organisations said that allowing children to decide would favour the parent with care at the time of the contact dispute, usually the mother, as there was a risk that she could poison the child"s mind against the absent parent, usually the father. Jack O"Sullivan, of Fathers" Direct, agreed with Mr Douglas that the views of the children should be paramount, but said that care needed to be taken to ensure that children did not feel that they had to take sides. "It may be that a child says they want to be with one parent because they want to protect them. For example if daddy leaves and mummy is upset, the child might feel they need to stay with mummy to protect her,' he said. Jim Parton, of Families Need Fathers, said that, although children should be listened to, those interviewing them needed to be very skilled to ensure that they did not ask leading questions. "With my son when he was asked, aged 5, ‘What do you consider to be your main home? He said, ‘I have mummy"s house and daddy"s house". The court welfare officer then asked him the question four more times and led him by the nose until he said, ‘mummy"s house",' Mr Parton said.

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