When parents are battling over how custody of a child will be shared, one or both of them may want their child to have a say in the matter — especially if they think their child will “choose” them to be their primary caregiver. Some judges want to hear from kids who are old enough and mature enough to have their opinion heard when their parents can’t reach an agreement.
However, placing a child (even a teenager) in that position can have long-term negative ramifications. Studies of adults whose parents divorced when they were children often found that those who were asked to choose wish they hadn’t been. Many say they never wanted that responsibility.
One therapist notes that part of the problem is the last part of the brain to develop, and likely not until the teen years are over, is the part that lets us understand the long-term consequences of our actions. That can explain a lot of behavioral issues that parents of teens have to deal with. Thinking through the future ramifications of things that seem fun in the moment often isn’t a teen’s strong suit.
Under Texas law, parties in a divorce can ask a judge to interview a child who’s at least 12 years old privately about whom they want to live with or other matters involving their parents. However, judges are required to make custody and visitation decisions based on a number of factors, with the overall goal of determining what’s in a child’s best interests.
The child’s wishes may be considered as one factor. However, should a child ever feel that they influenced a judge’s custody decision? This can lead to feelings of guilt. They may also believe that they’re calling the shots, when the parents typically should be the ones working together to do what’s best for them.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t consider your children’s feelings and wishes when you’re working out your custody and visitation agreement. However, asking your child to go in to a judge’s chambers and make those wishes known is another matter. If you’re considering this (or your co-parent is), discuss the matter with your attorney first.