Children’s perspectives can enlighten decisions regarding custody and parenting plans, but different opinions exist about how best to involve children in the decision-making process. Payoffs and Pitfalls of Listening to Children discusses why most procedures for soliciting children’s preferences do not reliably elicit information on their best interests and do not give children a meaningful voice in decision-making. Instead, these procedures provide children with forums in which to takes sides in their parents’ disputes. In addition to hearing an individual child’s voice, decision makers can use the collective voice of children, as revealed in research on such topics as joint custody, overnight stays, and relocation to help understand what children might say about these issues with the hindsight of maturity and in the absence of parental pressure, loyalty conflicts, inhibitions, and limitations in perspective and articulation.
Following is an excerpt from the Conclusion of Payoffs and Pitfalls of Listening to Children.
Unpacking the phrase ‘‘hearing a child’s voice’’ is complicated. It makes a difference whether our objective is to use the child’s perspective to enlighten and contribute to decisions, or whether we want to empower children to make the decisions themselves. One problem with radical empowerment is that adults can—and do—delude themselves into thinking that they are hearing a child’s voice when, in fact, they may be receiving a distorted broadcast laced with the static of a charged emotional atmosphere; or the voice may be delivering a script written by another; or it may reflect the desire to placate, take care of, or pledge loyalty to a parent. When we have good reason to suspect that a child is speaking in a voice that is not his or her own or that does not advance his or her best interests, well-designed empirical research can assist parents, attorneys, mediators, custody consultants, and courts to hear what the child might say as an adult looking back on childhood and judging the decisions made on his or her behalf.
The voices of children, as expressed in the studies reviewed in this article, should inform public policy regarding children’s contact with divorced and never-married parents. Rather than regarding the maintenance of relationships with parents in two homes as an unrealistic burden, legislatures, courts, parents, and their advisers should recognize that children can and want to maintain high-quality relationships with both parents and generally should be afforded the opportunity to do so.