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Should custody plans be more child-focused?

Last week, we wrote about the potential benefits of a divorce for children, including happier parents and healthier models of respectful, functional relationships. But what happens when the divorce comes with a child custody and parenting time agreement that does not take the child’s wants and needs into account? Is it possible that any possible benefits of the split could be completely outweighed by those negatives?

According to family therapist Ruth Bettelheim, that is more than possible – that is what happens in the vast majority of divorce cases in Las Vegas and throughout the country. When divorcing parents set out to negotiate and decide their child custody and parenting time agreement, they may consult a variety of third-party experts to help craft their custody plan. However, they are not likely to consult their children, and that can have a negative effect on the kids and on the family as a whole, Bettelheim says.

This isn’t necessarily the parents’ fault. The family laws of many states expressly prohibit the consideration of children’s wishes when determining custody. And many children are simply too young to be trusted with that important decision.

But in those situations, Bettelheim says, parents should reconsider their custody agreement as their children grow older and their wants and needs change. She suggests that custody should be reevaluated every two years, with the child leading the decision-making process. This will allow the child to have more ownership of his or her living arrangement, and teach them valuable lessons about making and living with the consequences of their decisions.

What do you think? Is Bettelheim’s plan a good one?

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

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