Let The Children Speak: Parents, Courts and Child Arrangement Orders 

Published on 08 February, 2017 | Alice Couriel

There is, out of necessity, something very grown-up about the law.

The sense of formality is arguably most evident at court, where the language and procedures can seem daunting to adults.

Even so, we mustn’t forget that courts across England and Wales deal with thousands of matters each week which impact directly on the lives of children.

Many of those relate to a child’s living arrangements following the end of their parents’ relationship.

Such issues can be difficult to resolve. It is not a surprise that a proportion of these cases involve friction.

That is one reason why the courts in Children’s Act proceedings carefully consider what are described as the “wishes and feelings” of children, particularly relating to the amount of time they spend with each parent after they separate.

If required by courts here, those thoughts can be condensed into a report compiled by an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (or CAFCASS, for short) to help the court understand a child’s feelings and the reasons behind them.

It’s a step which has been proposed by a judge in Italy to sort out a dispute between a Peruvian woman and her Italian ex-husband, both of whom want their child to live with them. What has caught the attention, however, is that the boy concerned is just six-years-old.

His father has questioned the logic of asking the opinion of a child of infant or elementary school age on themes which may have important consequences for his upbringing and ongoing relationships with his parents.

Age is a crucial factor. Whilst there is no hard and fast rule in a British context for the age at which children are thought able to consider such things, the wishes of a child aged 10 or 11 years of age will carry more weight than one who is seven-years-old but they are by no means determinative.

That is quite simply because each case and each child is unique: some children are far more mature than others and able to grasp the importance of what is being decided as well as being able to articulate their emotions.

Given that even bright children can be intimidated by the legal process, though, there have been moves towards the adoption of initiatives such as family therapy, which involves the entire family and allows a child to express itself in a more relaxed way and a more comfortable environment without the possible pressures of parents or the courtroom .

Children are certainly capable of contributing to the decision-making process. Of course, it would be infinitely better if they didn’t have to do so.

The fact is that break-ups may be painful for the adults involved but are far more complicated when the physical and psychological well-being of children needs to be taken into account.

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