The simple answer is generally no with a “but”. People facing a divorce are often paralyzed with grief and fear. One of the most difficult issues to navigate is how are you going to be able to successfully co-parent your children. From the court’s vantage point, as children get older, their wishes and concerns are heard and considered but they are not the decision makers (nor are you) and the judge will make the ultimate decision as to your co-parenting plan. In a consensual process, such as mediation or collaborative practice, your children’s wishes and concerns are also heard and considered, but you and your spouse make the decisions about what your co-parenting agreement will look like.
For your children, there is a great deal of stress that comes with watching their family change, feeling they have no voice, and depending upon their ages, wanting to have some control over their lives in the midst of their parents’ chaos. Also added to the difficulty of navigating co-parenting are the circumstances surrounding the separation. Often, when one parent perceives him or herself to be the victim in the demise of the marriage, you may unconsciously or consciously want your children to choose sides, which can translate into wanting your children to say they want to live with you over the other parent.
Imagine how much pressure that places on your children, who are themselves full of grief and fear. Your children need to be reassured that they are loved, that they are safe, and that you are still a family. While it is advisable and valuable to create a safe place for your children to talk about their feelings and share what they would like their lives to look like going forward, you need to be careful. Children need to know their feelings matter and that they are heard. However they also need to know that you, as their parents, are the decision makers and together you will always make decisions that you both feel are in their best interest.
By giving your children too much power, you may undermine both parents in the eyes of your children. The best tool you can utilize is to have a mental health professional to help you and your family navigate the difficult issues around a divorce and in creating the best co-parenting plan for your family. This provides your family with a safe place to talk about their feelings, begin to heal, and to work together to create a co-parenting plan that is customized around what’s important to you and your children.
Allow your children the opportunity to express themselves and to be reassured that you love them and hear them and at the same time continue to be their parents and make decisions together about what your family is going to look like post-divorce.