In general I’m dubious about family courts allowing children age 12 or older to decide which parent they want to live with. Some children that age have the maturity to make a good decision, some don’t. Also, kids can be easily manipulated and bribed, not to mention alienated or poisoned by one parent or another. Plus, in most cases the child would be better off spending significant time with both parents, not one or the other.
On a more political level, another problem is that family law advocates on both sides (our side and the feminist side) can easily fall into the trap of applauding the child’s decision when it goes our way and condemning it (or blaming bribery or alienation) when it doesn’t.
The English case below, however, I think transcends this. According to the London Times Judges back two British boys who refuse to live in France (11/8/07):
“Two boys who hated living in France so much they asserted their Britishness and refused to return to live there with their mother have been granted their wish by senior judges.
‘In a highly unusual case, Lord Justice Thorpe, one of three judges sitting at the Court of Appeal in London, said that the desire of the brothers, aged 11 and 16, to live in England deserved to be respected and overrode even the wishes of their own mother.
“Describing the case as ‘not just exceptional but very exceptional’, the judge said that the boys” French mother had taken them back to her homeland with her in 2005 after her marriage to their British father had broken down. But the two boys, who at the time spoke no French, failed to settle into their new lives in a market town in southern France and, after a holiday in England with their father in July this year, refused to return.
“The boys” mother came to England to take them back to France but they insisted that they wanted to stay in England…
“In his original decision, Mr Justice Coleridge described both parents as ‘impressive people’ and said he was ‘quite satisfied that the father has not, in any shape or form, put the children up to this’. The boys had ‘simply and strongly expressed the view that they will not return’ to France.
“The mother had argued that her sons” life in France was happy and settled and their views were ‘not a matter which should be given great weight’.”
As much as I’m uncomfortable with allowing kids making custody decisions, I think the judge probably made the right call in this case. Both parents are apparently fit, and I think it is very difficult for an 11-year-old and a 16-year-old to be uprooted, taken from their schools and their friends, and taken to a country where they don’t even speak the language.
Read the full article here.