When you’re going through a divorce or custody dispute, your focus is on your rights. Your ex has the same focus. It’s every man (and woman) for himself in this situation. And rightly so—if you don’t stand up for yourself, no one will. However, what is often lost in all of this is your children’s rights.
Custody laws are not written to highlight children’s rights. They address the parents and what they can seek from the court. The children are minors and have no official say in the case, however their situation, and sometimes their opinion, is very important to the court.
Because of this, courts appoint Law Guardians or Guardians ad litem to represent the children’s interests and to speak for them. Children who are over age 12 have a very important voice in the case, and the older the children are, the more persuasive their opinions will be. But most states do not lay out specific rights that are given to children.
Understanding the Underlying Rights at Stake
Custody cases certainly are emotional and high stakes. Because of this, what is often lost sight of by the parents is what the children are entitled to. Although your state probably does not enunciate your children’s rights, they are understood to have some. Here’s a list of what your children’s rights are in your custody case (the only exceptions applied would be for the children’s safety):
- To have a meaningful, ongoing relationship with both parents
- To live in a safe, healthy environment
- To have their situations, needs, and opinions considered when making custody decisions, without feeling responsibility for anything
- Not to be used as pawns or bargaining chips
- To have a childhood that is not plagued by adults’ problems
- To be adequately financially supported
- To understand they are not responsible for the divorce or dispute between their parents
- To receive adequate medical care
- To be shielded from fighting, arguing, and cruelty between their parents
- To be able to attend the same school regularly
- To never be required to carry messages between parents
- To have some time to spend with friends
- To live with their siblings, if possible, and spend significant time with half-siblings
- To spend meaningful time with grandparents
- To have a parenting schedule that fits their needs first, then the needs of their parents
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks), The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling) and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.