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Should you let children decide which parent to live with?

When a couple with children divorces, one important consideration has to do with custody of the children. Will the parents opt for joint custody, will one parent have primary custody, or will the arrangement be something else?

In some situations, parents may be tempted to let the children decide which parent to live with. This approach has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

When children get to decide who they live with and their choices have been made clear, children may feel more empowered and in control of their lives. This can be especially critical because divorce is an uncertain time for everyone, with many issues involved. However, it is important in such cases for parents to be prepared to put aside any hurt feelings they have about what the children decide and not take them out on the children.

In fact, with the cases of teenage children who have built deep roots in one neighborhood and whose lives would be disrupted by having to switch between homes, the question may not even be about "which parent" but "which place."

Disadvantages

It is better in many, if not most, situations for children to have input but not the final say in whom they live with. After all, the reason so many courts now default to joint custody is the fact that children thrive when both parents are involved in their lives. Parents should be able to put aside their own struggles and conflicts with each other to make a decision about their children rather than insert their children into the middle of a custody dispute.

That said, there is still a lot of flexibility and opportunity to empower children. Take a joint custody situation, for example. Parents can ask their children if they prefer alternate weeks, or if they would prefer to switch off every two weeks or even every other month. 

No matter what the custody situation ends up being, parents should remain flexible. Also, it can be a good idea to review parenting plans every two years or so to ensure they are still a good fit for everyone involved.

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