One of the most challenging choices you may face while divorcing is whether you should ask your children who they want to live with. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this issue. However, you should consider certain things before making this decision.
Three Important Factors to Consider
The first factor is the age and maturity of your kids. Depending on their age, they may have more or less say in where and with whom they live. Courts may give some weight to the opinion of children over age 12, but they will also consider their best interests. You should assess how mature and independent your kids are and how well they can cope with the changes and challenges of a divorce.
The second factor is the pressure and conflict your kids may feel if they choose between you or their other parent. This can be very stressful and emotional for them, and it may affect their relationship with you. It is important to avoid asking direct questions that may make them feel guilty or divided. Instead, you should try to listen to their feelings and concerns and reassure them that you love them and respect their wishes.
The third factor is the timing and process of asking for your kids’ views. You may ask them before, during or after the separation or involve them in a mediation process with a professional. You should also consider how stable and cooperative your relationship with your ex-partner is and how willing you are to compromise and accommodate your kids’ preferences. Be prepared for the possibility that your kids may change their minds over time as they adjust to the new situation.
If your family has been seeing a therapist or you are open to doing so, you can discuss the matter of should your kids decide where to live while in session. For some family members, this may be perceived as a safe space to discuss an otherwise turbulent or emotional topic. Selecting a divorce-aware therapist with experience walking families through these challenging talks is imperative.
It should be noted that a discussion with the children about who they want to live with should NEVER be between just one parent and the kids. As you can imagine, this can consciously or subconsciously bias the conversation, leading to conflicting inner feelings for the child that may not be verbalized but could manifest behaviorally over time. Moreover, the child may feel that they have to give an answer that pleases the parent rather than reflects their true desires.
Fundamentally, the most critical consideration in all of this is the child's best interests. High emotions can cloud our objectivity, and we can subconsciously influence processes with our self-interests. This is why it's always essential to consult with somebody who is not emotionally wrapped up in the situation when making critical decisions such as this.
Family law sides with the children's best interest, so it is vital that you ask yourself the hard questions and answer them honestly. For instance, "Am I using language that will influence my child's decision to take my side?" or "Am I subtly giving signals that I will be hurt if my child doesn't choose me?" or "Are my bad feelings towards my child's other parent influencing how I am framing this discussion?".
Conclusion: Should Your Kids Decide Where to Live?
Deciding whether to ask your children who they want to live with is a challenging decision that demands careful thought. It's essential to consider their age, maturity, personality, and sensitivity level. It's vital to avoid putting pressure on them and to choose the right timing and approach. Seeking the help of a therapist or mediator can assist you in navigating this delicate subject. Remember that the child's best interests must take precedence, and avoiding any bias or influence from either parent is essential. Be honest with yourself and seek advice from someone not emotionally involved.
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