The Views of the Child
The views of children are one of the factors which are considered by the Court in deciding what living arrangements are in the best interests of the children. It is however only one of many factors which the Court considers and is not decisive. Section 60 CC of the legislation sets out the factors considered by the court.
Nonetheless, the older that a child is, the greater weight the Court will place on their wishes, dependent on the maturity of the child.
The Court often expresses the view that what a child wants and what a child needs are two different things. That said however, a child's right to have a meaningful relationship with
both parents is secondary to the need to keep a child safe from physical or emotional harm.
As a parent you have a responsibility to foster and protect your child's relationship with the other parent as much as possible. This means;-
- You should only speak positively of the other parent, to and in the presence of the child;
- You should not argue with the other parent in the presence or hearing of the child;
- You should not discuss with the child the relationship breakdown, the cause of it or any blame you feel lies with the other parent;
- You should encourage your child to spend time with the other parent, other than in situations where the child would be at risk to do so;
- If necessary, you should obtain psychological support for yourself to ensure that you manage the separation appropriately.
- Consider counselling support for your children if they have been exposed to any parental conflict or other inappropriate behaviours. Relationships Australia offer group sessions which can be very helpful, and;
- Consider doing a Parenting after Separation course. These are also offered by Relationships Australia as well as other community services and therapists.
If your partner has treated you badly it is difficult to foster your child's relationship with them, but it is important for the wellbeing of your child that you protect your child from your personal views about their mother or father.
The psychological research reflects that where a child has been exposed to ongoing parental conflict they can suffer long term harm including;-
In worst scenario cases children can display self-harming behaviours.
- Difficulty in making and keeping friends;
- Poor academic performance;
- Behavioural issues;
- Depression and anxiety; and
- Self-esteem issues.
It is important that you attempt to stand back from your own grief and loss and try to support your children to adjust to the separation of their family.
In general children will be assisted through protection from the parental conflict and maintaining routine.
Where parents separate they are encouraged to maintain the same routine in both households, exchange information in relation to behavioural and disciplinary issues and ensure that the children have consistent parenting.
Different considerations apply where one parent is abusive and there is a need to protect a child and/or a parent from physical or psychological harm.