Indiana child custody attorneys wonder if sometimes, we give less say to children than they deserve.
Of course, we know that child custody proceedings don't always have to be acrimonious - and in fact, we do handle all of our cases with the recognition that these are children's lives we're talking about. And children, as we know, don't always recognize what is best for them.
For example, one parent may spoil with lavish gifts and trips, but is not actually fit to care for the child on a 24-7 basis. That can be extremely frustrating for the other parent involved, especially when the child begins to express favor toward the mostly-absentee parent.
However, a recent column written by family therapist Ruth Bettelheim indicates that perhaps we should be ceding some of the say to our youngsters in these cases on a more regular basis.
The issue she really gets at is maybe not so much when child custody arrangements in Indiana are first made. Most parents, even in bitter custody battles, do deep down want what is best for the child - the question is determining what the "best" looks like.
The issue, Bettelheim says, is more when that custody agreement stays stagnant. Essentially what works for a 3-year-old isn't going to necessarily work for a 12-year-old or a 15-year-old.
But because it may be painful for us as adults to visit, we leave it alone, despite the fact that the current situation may not actually be what the child wants or what is best.
For example, let's say you're a 14-year-old whose parents divorced when you were 6. When it first happened, you may have been fine to shuttle to your dad's house two hours away on the weekends. But now that you are wanting to spend more time with your friends, it seems unfair that you spend weekends two hours away. You may be loath to bring it up with your parents, though, for fear of drudging up past hurts.
Plus, kids have an innate desire to please their parents. They don't want to disappoint them, so they will suppress expressing what it is they actually want so that they won't have to feel guilty for "choosing" one parent over the other.
Sometimes, it's not even so much that one parent may get more time than the other, but that everyone could benefit from some form of modification.
And while some couples may be able to work together to come up with an agreement on their own, old wounds may prevent them from truly being civil with one another. This is where it can really help to bring on an experienced child custody lawyer, who can review all the details of the case and make a new transition as painless as possible.
What Bettelheim proposes is the institution of a mandatory review every couple of years to all child custody cases. She says that doing this - and allowing each child the opportunity to speak privately with a court mediation attorney - would help ensure that the current situation is working for everyone, child included.
However, it isn't likely that this kind of sweeping legislation would be put into effect anytime soon.
That doesn't mean, though, that parents can't take the initiative. It may be somewhat painful at first, but revisiting the custody situation every few years - hearing out your kids and analyzing the scenario from a place of objectivity - can only serve to benefit everyone in the end.
Highland Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary, Hammond and Calumet City. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
In Whose Best Interests?, By RUTH BETTELHEIM, The New York Times