Article 12 of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to have their opinions heard about matters that affect them and particularly so where judicial proceedings, such as custody and access, are involved. Being receptive to a child’s feelings and emotions makes a child feel safe and allows them to express themselves openly and honestly without fear. It gives them a sense of belonging.
In the family law context, exploring options that include a child’s participation in decisions affecting them as a result of separation or divorce is often referred to as including “the voice of the child.”
Having input in a decision-making process is not the same as being entitled to make the final decision – courts have held that in all instances the wishes of the child will not override what is in their best interests.
When separating or divorcing couples are unable to settle on new parenting arrangements, whether on their own or through mediation or negotiation, a court may be asked to determine the matter. Generally speaking a court will want as much information as possible to come up with a parenting arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. The court can order a custody and access assessment to help determine a suitable parenting arrangement. The custody and access report evaluates the needs of the child, as well as each parent’s ability to meet those needs.
Custody and access assessments are performed by qualified social workers. The assessor may consider the family and parenting background and the parent’s views of the needs of the child. The social worker may spend some time observing the child with each parent and talk to other individuals in the child’s life. These other individuals might include people like teachers, doctors, family members and friends.
Depending on the age of the child, the assessor may also speak directly to the child. Family Justice Services provides qualified individuals to prepare what is known as a Children’s Voices Report. This report is limited to the wishes and concerns of children ages 12 and over. Sometimes going through the assessment process itself helps parents to once again focus on the needs of their child.
Regardless of how the courts get their information about a child’s needs, parents need to recognize the importance of listening to their children. Children need to know that they are important. Family councillors and other health care professionals stress that listening and encouraging a child to share their thoughts and feelings can boost a child’s self-esteem and make them feel loved, appreciated and important. It also lets them know that what they say matters to someone. The Family Education Network offers these straightforward tips on listening to your child…