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Should children decide their own custody plans?

When divorcing parents begin to negotiate their child custody agreements and parenting plans, they usually call on a variety of legal and psychological experts to determine what is best for their children. But the children, who are arguably affected by the outcome of those negotiations, are usually not consulted.

In a recent editorial in the New York Times, marriage and family therapist Ruth Bettelheim says that leaving children out of the child custody discussion often does them a significant disservice. This, she says, is because it is important for children to feel as if they have a say in their lives, and to deny them that leads to feelings of helplessness and frustration. Also, making and living with the consequences of decisions is an important part of the growing-up process.

In addition, Bettelheim says that it is important to continually reevaluate a custody and parenting time plan as the child gets older and his or her needs change. However, as couples are understandably hesitant to reenter and rehash the family law process, this rarely happens.

Therefore, she advocates for a completely new method of custody and parenting time determinations. Every two years, the agreement should be reevaluated, with the child or children taking charge of the decision-making process. A trained mediator should meet with all members of the family, individually and as a group, and the child's wishes should be decisive as long as at least one parent agrees with them. Two years later, the process would start all over again.

Do you agree with Bettelheim? Would a plan like this create better custody agreements?

Source: New York Times, "In Whose Best Interests?" Ruth Bettelheim, May 19, 2012

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