Best Interest of the Child
In Whose Best Interest? a thought -provoking article written by Ruth Bettelheim appeared in the Sunday New York Times yesterday.
Bettelheim, a therapist, advocates for giving children a voice in the creation of parenting plans emanating from their parents’ divorce. Among other things, Bettelheim proposes that the implementation of a mandatory review of parenting plans every two years in order to assess and accommodate a growing child’s changing needs.
Although Bettelheim’s proposal requires further consideration (particularly the age at which she proposes a child reaches the age of reason), I appreciate that she has drawn attention to some of the risks divorcing adults, and by default their children, may experience during the divorce process. As a mediator and Collaborative divorce coach, ‘I agree with Bettleheim about the need to look at the needs of the whole family as it gets rearranged. Research shows that children of divorce fare best when there is little or no parental conflict. (see e.g., Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R.E ( 2003) Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52, (4), 352-36 )
Parents need [the opportunity to work on communicating (and more often than not a break down in communication is a contributing factor to the dissolution of a marriage) and to make decisions together that will have a direct impact on their children. Although a parenting plan encompasses the primary decisions related to a child — where a child will live, how much time a child spends with each parent, and how parents will make major child-related decisions — there are many other decisions made during the divorce that directly affect children. The disposition of the marital or family home serves as one example.
I also believe that parents working together are the experts when it comes to their children and that it is up to them to decide how to seek input from their child and/or professionals in order to make informed decisions. The issue of whether to create an opportunity for a child to express his or her thoughts could be discussed. Considerations that may arise during the discussion might include: the age and maturity of the child, the advantages and disadvantages for the child and the parent in requesting a child’s input, who will present the issue to the child and the ways in which a child may wish to respond.
Another decision for the family, as suggested by the Bettleheim proposal, is to institutionalize a parenting plan review. Parents can incorporate into a final agreement a prospective review procedure to accommodate the development of the child and perhaps changing needs.
Parents who have these and other discussions either on their own or with the assistance of a coach, therapist, mediator, or attorney, may lay the groundwork for a smoother transition for the family and effective co-parenting as time goes by. After all, the success of a parenting plan ultimately depends whether the parents and child(ren) can implement it or make adjustments as circumstances require.