By Molly Murphy
Custody battles are hard on kids of all ages. It is especially hard for tweens and teenagers. They are old enough to understand what court is, and that Mom and Dad are fighting over them. Some children even become their parents’ confidantes or are used as a pawn between their parents.
In this role the teenager, who is still a child, becomes a mediator. Or, they become one parent’s staunchest defender. Any of those roles is a hard place to be. It is especially hard on teenagers, as they are still developing their own relationships with their peers.
However, be aware that getting your child involved in your case could backfire on you.
In the State of Missouri, where I practice, there are three kinds of custody for children who are the subject of family court cases. The first kind is physical custody. That covers where the child physically is at, at all times. The second time is legal custody. Legal custody covers all major decisions facing parents. These include educational, religion, and medical decisions. The final kind of custody is residential parent. Whoever is designated the residential parent will have their address used for mailing and educational purposes. This can determine what school district the child is enrolled in.
I see clients and potential clients every day. Many tell me that they know their child wants to live with them. Some even want their child to speak to the Judge. A frequent question I receive is how old does a child have to be to testify in court and to make their own decision on where they want to live? This is a very good question. Where a child wants to live can affect where the child is ordered to live.
However, be aware that getting your child involved in your case could backfire on you. The child may pick the other parent, or even resent you for getting them involved. Many teenagers begin to manipulate both parents to get certain privileges or material objects. Parents of teenagers have to be able to find a way to communicate.
Why do judges not want a child to decide? Many children want to live with the same sex parent. This is because teenagers naturally gravitate towards their same sex parent. Judges also do not want a child to be in this position. A child deciding where they want to live will cause hard feelings and ill will between the parents and child and the non-custodial parent. Finally, judges can also be parents. They understand that a teenager may manipulate parents to get their own way.
What happens next? The Judge may order the parents to seek help with their custody issues with a mediator. Many counties in my state utilize the M.A.R.C.H. mediation system, which offers free services to parents going through a paternity or modification case. Parents utilizing services for divorce cases are asked to use a mediator ordered by the Judge. Some court systems have their own social workers on staff.
Another option judges utilize is ordering a Guardian ad Litem. By statute, guardians are ordered in all causes that involve abuse or neglect. Judges can extend this and appoint guardians when there is a problem with a parent using drugs or alcohol, or in difficult custody situations.
As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s every need. The standard Judges use is the standard parents should use: What is in the child’s best interest?
Margaret “Molly” P. Murphy is an Associate Attorney in the Arnold, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. where she practices exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Murphy is admitted to practice law in the state of Missouri. Ms. Murphy was born and raised in St. Louis. She received her B.A. in Political Science and English Language and Literature in 1998 from the University of Tulsa where she graduated magna cum laude. Ms. Murphy received her Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2001.