When Should Children Have a Say in Parenting Agreements?

Children's feelings and needs should be factored into parenting agreement development

For divorcing parents, making decisions concerning their parenting plan isn't always easy. There are many factors to consider when crafting the best possible parenting plan, yet a few elements that tend to influence this process include the opinions and level of competition between parents. Each parent may think that their ideas are best, vying for what they feel is right. But at what point do the opinions of the children come into this process?

Children tend to care greatly about how their lives are impacted by their parents' divorce. Some may loudly voice their opinions, while others remain rather quiet. As parents, knowing when and how your children should have a say is influenced by the specifics of your family's situation. Yet no matter the case, consider these three points about taking your children' opinions into count as you decide on your parenting schedule and other aspects of your parenting plan.

Certain factors determine how much a child's say weighs on the decision

In many cases where the children are under 18 years old, Australian Courts will determine what is best for the children by looking at a few specific factors including the what benefits are involved if the child maintains relationships with both parents and if physical or psychological harm has ever been a concern for the family.

A psychologist, counsellor, or other family practitioners may interview the children to get an idea of their feelings about where they'd like to live. The interviewer will make recommendations and send a report to the judge who will then consider this information as they reach a decision. The influence that a child's wishes have on the court may depend on factors like their level of maturity, their understanding of the ramifications of the decisions to be made, and whether a parent could be influencing a child to lean their wishes a particular way. 

Understand how your children are feeling

As a parent, it is your job to understand the needs of your child and make the best possible decisions favouring their interests. Talk to your children about what they want, but be careful not to lead them into thinking things will go one way or the other without being very certain yourself. It's so important to maintain an open dialogue with your children about their feelings, and you'll want to know how they feel about the living arrangements and other plans you make that affect them. Do your best not to become overly emotional when they share their feelings with you. Your children might not have a direct say in your parenting agreement, but respect what they have to say and consider their opinions as you create your plan or re-formulate it in the future.

Be open to compromise

Even while you negotiate your parenting agreement out of earshot of your children, they will observe you throughout this experience. Try to be a positive model of compromise and understanding. Do your best to work peacefully with your co-parent to reach an agreement that favours your children first but allows everyone involved to benefit. Though watching you, your children can learn valuable lessons about reason and negotiation.

There may be certain circumstances that exist which might drive you to want to protect your children, yet if your child's safety is not a true concern in any specific circumstance, try to be reasonable. Children benefit from spending time with both parents and cultivating strong relationships with each. Set your emotions or frustrations aside so that you can favour what is best for your children. If you and your co-parent are getting stuck on creating your agreement, consider working with a mediator in your area. Their job is to help individuals reach resolutions, and they can prove to be an excellent resource for creating parenting plans.

Children might not have a direct say in the parenting schedule or other agreements, but their feelings are valid. As a parent, understand the laws in your state which could dictate how much of a direct impact your children's opinions might have in your agreement. More importantly, know how your children are feeling by talking to them about it. And keep yourself open to compromise for their sake as well as your own and your co-parent's. Your children might not thank you today for setting up a reasonable parenting agreement, but it sure can make things easier for your family as you all move forward.