Divorce can be devastating for children who may not understand the reasons why their parents are breaking up. Among the toughest decisions you will make as a parent during a divorce is how to share child custody in a way that is least disruptive to your children. Each parent may feel he or she knows what is best for the child, and this can lead to contentious battles over parenting time. If you and your spouse cannot reach a fair agreement, you may have to leave it up to the courts to decide.
Like many parents, you may wonder if it is a good idea to put the decision in the hands of your children. Having to decide which parent they want to live with can be a heart wrenching burden for children, no matter their age. Furthermore, Missouri courts will consider a child’s preference only as one of several factors before deciding on a custody plan.
Factors the court weighs
No child gets the final say when custody matters go to court. However, depending on the children’s ages and maturity levels, the judge in your case or a court-appointed representative may speak privately with your children to learn more about the situation and the opinions of the young ones. This interview will likely take place on the record but in a private setting, and you may not be permitted to attend.
The court will then consider this interview but only alongside other factors, such as your living situation, criminal history, bond with the child and overall fitness as a parent. A judge might place less weight on a child’s preference or even refuse to consider it at all under the following circumstances:
- The child is very young.
- The child has mental, cognitive or emotional impairments.
- One parent has a criminal history.
- There is clear evidence that one parent is abusive.
- The court knows that one parent is unfit, such as if he or she refuses to get treatment for an addiction.
- One parent behaves recklessly with the child, such as allowing him or her to drive without a license.
Ideally, you and your spouse can amicably work out a custody arrangement. When this is not possible, the courts must step in. Under normal circumstances, judges generally try to divide parenting time as equally as possible. However, the court may make a custody ruling that contradicts the wishes of the child. If this happens in your case, it is important that your child understands that he or she must comply.