Deciding on a parenting plan following divorce can cause a lot of tension and conflict within a family. While ultimately, it is up to the parents (or arbitrator / court, depending on your process) to decide on parenting arrangements, the views of the children may be taken into consideration. Ultimately, the weight given to a child’s wishes will depend on their age and maturity. However, it is very important that parents are mindful of how they initiate conversations with their children about divorce proceedings and how they go about obtaining their children’s preferences. It is a common understanding in the legal field that, as much as possible, children should be protected from their parents conflict and not involved in the divorce proceedings.
Shared Parenting and Best Interests of the Children
Following the breakdown of a marriage, parents need to decide on a parenting plan that works best for their family. Unless there is a history of violence or abuse, shared parenting is most often deemed to be in the best interest of the children. When creating a parenting plan, there are a number of factors parents can ask to ensure that is in the children’s best interest. Below is an example of factors to consider when creating a parenting plan. Note, this is in no way a exhaustive list:
- Preferences of the children;
- The nature of the children’s relationship with each parent;
- History of care of the child; and / or
- Parenting living arrangements including location and accessibility to schooling, friends and support networks.
It is important to note that while children should be able to voice their preferences and views in the matter, it is ultimately up to the parents, or the arbitrator / courts, to determine what is in the best interest of the children.
How to Properly Seek Your Children’s Views
In Canada, children have the right to express their views in all matters that affect them, especially with respect to legal proceedings. As children age and mature, the weight given to their preferences increases. The research indicates that children cope better when given the opportunity to express their views and have these views considered by those in a position of authority such as a parent, counsellor, teacher, therapist, etc… There are many different avenues parents can take when it comes to learning about their children’s views.
- Parents can talk to their children (ideally together) in a broad sense without putting any burden on the children or asking direct questions;
- Parents can hire a social working or psychologist to meet with their children and create a report with their findings; or
- A lawyer can be appointed for the children.
While this list is not exhaustive, it gives an overview of some of the processes and resources available to children. Your mediator will also be able to provide insight into these processes and recommend specific psychologist or counsellors, if necessary.
Parenting Alienation: What Is It and How Does It Occur?
Alienation occurs when one parent attempts or successfully causes the children of the marriage to reject, fear and/or avoid contact with the other parent. Unfortunately, alienation is not uncommon and is often seen in high conflict divorce cases. In cases where alienation is present, one parent often seeks to have sole decision-making and primary parenting of the children. They also typically attempt to “turn” the children against the other parent by sharing details of the relationship breakdown. Parenting alienation is an extremely serious matter and the legal system strives to ensure the prevention and treatment of alienation to protect the best interests of the children.