As you probably know, Tennessee parents and family court judges who make decisions about child custody and visitation issues are required to put “the best interests” of children first. You may also know that family court judges in our state must consider the “reasonable” preferences of children aged 12 or older as only one of many factors in their decision-making process, and are allowed to consider the child custody preferences of younger children as well.
While this may seem like a reasonable enough way to handle child custody and visitation disputes in court, the reality is that parents usually resolve issues outside of court and are not required to consider their children’s preferences. In essence, this means that so long as an agreement appears to conform to the “best interests” standard, judges will almost always okay it even if the child had no input during the negotiation process.
In an Op-Ed piece published by The New York Times this week, marriage and family therapist Ruth Bettelheim said children aged seven and older should have a decisive voice regarding the terms and conditions that will govern their lives until the age of 18.
Bettelheim also said that because children’s needs change as they grow older there should be a binding, mandatory review of child custody and parenting time agreements every two years. Built into that review process, she added, should be a recorded opportunity for each child to speak to a trained mediation lawyer in private, outside the presence of his or her parents.
If a child clearly expresses a preference in that meeting, the matter would be decided. At that point, the mediation lawyer would have the responsibility to make certain those wishes were honored in the next two-year child custody and visitation agreement.
Does that sound reasonable too? We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject.
Source: The New York Times, “In Whose Best Interests?,” Ruth Bettelheim, May 19, 2012