Doesn't my child get to choose?

I frequently get asked the question, "Does my child gets to choose who he/she wants to live with?" And the answer is always the same…"No." The next question I get is, "why not?" Well, there are many reasons why a child typically does not call the shots on time-sharing issues, but I try to focus my explanation on two critical reasons:

1) The Courts do not like to involve minor children in adult matters/court proceedings, and

2) Under most circumstances a minor child is not equipped mentally or emotionally to make such a large decision based on what is in their best interest.

"But the Judge should know how my child feels about his/her Mother/Father." The hard truth is this; most Judges in Florida are extremely reluctant to involve a minor child in divorce, paternity, or "custody" proceedings. One obvious reason for this is that these types of proceeding are often messy and volatile. Involving a minor child in litigation exposes them to the emotions that the parent(s) may be feeling, many of which can be very negative feelings. It is my experience that minor children who are exposed to litigation often have a much more difficult time adjusting to changes that might occur as a result of the litigation. Furthermore, it is never beneficial for a child to hear negative things about the other parent, true or not. I always ask my clients to keep in mind that their child is one half them and one half the other parent. When something negative is said about the other parent, it is not uncommon for the child to believe that the same is true about them, because they are one half that person. It is critical that a parent recognize this so that they can think before they speak to their child about the other parent or before they involve the child in litigation.

Another down-side to the child being involved in litigation is that it can cause rifts in otherwise normal parent-child relationships. If a child testifies against a parent or tells the Court that he/she does not want to spend time with a parent; that can have serious repercussions on the child's current and future relationship with that parent. Not involving the child in the litigation process helps minimize this possibility. In addition, most children don't want to be involved…even if they tell a parent that they do. Keep in mind, your child wants to protect you and his or herself. Out of love and self-preservation, many children tell each parent what he/she thinks that parent wants to hear. A parent should always keep this in mind when dealing with litigation issues. As hard as it may be to believe, your child is likely telling the other parent what they want to hear too. That does not mean your child is bad, it means they are normal.

Let's face it. Even the sweetest, most innocent children can learn how to work the system (or work their parents). Minor children (who have brains that have been scientifically shown to be incapable of making good choices until they reach their twenties)should not be allowed to make decisions about who they should "live" with…period. If we allowed the child to decide, the result would often look like this: Suzie wants to "live" with mom because mom let's her stay up late and eat ice cream for dinner. A year later, mom decides Suzie should eat vegetables for dinner. So, Suzie says she wants to live with dad because he lets her play her Nintendo DS whenever she wants and eat ice cream for dinner. Then Dad takes away the DS. Now Suzie wants to live with mom because mom will let her play the DS. And on and on it goes. Suzie is never really making decisions based on what is in her best interest. Her brain is incapable of doing that. She instead makes decisions that have immediate gratification. There is a reason why children are raised by adults and not the other way around.