Child custody arrangements can be one of the trickiest parts of divorce or separation. Parents often grapple with the question of whether to involve their children in the custody decision-making process.
If parents decide to do so, it should be in an age-appropriate way that protects the children’s emotional well-being.
Preschoolers (ages 3-5)
Preschoolers are just beginning to grasp the concept of divorce and may not fully understand what is happening. Parents can use simple language and visual aids, such as drawings or toys, to help very young children express their feelings. Allow them to spend time with both parents in familiar environments to maintain a sense of normalcy.
School-age children (ages 6-12)
Children in this age group have a better grasp of the situation and can express their preferences more clearly. Parents can have open and honest conversations with them about the new living arrangements. Actively listen to their concerns while still maintaining parental guidance.
Adolescents (ages 13-18)
Teenagers have a more developed understanding of their own needs and desires. They should have a more substantial say in custody decisions. Encourage them to express their preferences, but remind them of the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship with both parents. Take their input seriously, and consider it when crafting custody arrangements.
In addition to age-appropriate involvement, parents should also prioritize the emotional well-being of their children. Encourage open communication, reassure your children of your love and seek professional counseling if needed to help them cope with the changes. For example, in Alabama, certified mental health providers from the Alabama Department of Mental Health served 29,345 children in fiscal year 2022.
While involving children in custody decisions can be good, it should never place them in the position of making the final call or choosing sides. The ultimate responsibility lies with the parents to create a balanced and stable environment for their children.