For a custody agreement to work, co-parents must be willing to work together and be fairly flexible. After all, even though a child custody agreement is often necessary when parents are not married or are divorced, what is written on paper will not always perfectly reflect what real life requires.
That is why parents should also regularly check in with each other to ensure the current custody arrangement is still working.
However, parents must not forget to consult another important party about the agreement as well – the children.
Remember, this arrangement impacts children too
Children are at the center of the custody arrangement, as well as any child custody decision. So, it is only fair for parents to consider their child’s opinions about the arrangement in addition to their own.
Although it may depend on their age, involving children in these discussions and decisions early can be helpful since their preferences can make a significant difference as they get older. Under Illinois law, children 14 or older can choose which parent they wish to live with. Of course, the arrangement must still be in their best interests, and when making custody decisions, courts will always consider:
- The child’s health, educational and social needs;
- The parent’s ability to support the child’s needs;
- The mental and physical health of both parents;
- The mental and physical health of the children; and
- The need for a stable home environment.
However, a child’s preference is also a factor courts consider when determining what is in the child’s best interests. And if the child’s preference fulfills their other interests, family courts will generally grant the child’s request.
In light of this, it might be helpful for parents to let their child’s preferences and decisions have more influence on the custody arrangement as they age and mature. Involving children in decisions that affect their own life and future can help families better ensure that the needs of all the family members are met.
What should parents ask their children?
Some open-ended questions that parents can ask to get their child’s perspective about how the custody arrangement is working include:
- How do the kids feel about the current arrangement?
- How is the current arrangement meeting their needs?
- How is the arrangement not meeting their needs?
- How does the schedule match up with their school and activity schedule?
Whether the modifications to the custody agreement or parental responsibilities are large or small, co-parents must check in with the entire family to reduce everyone’s stress and work to meet everyone’s needs.