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The importance of the child’s voice

 February 2019 |  Jane-Louise Burrows

As parents we try to listen to our children’s requests. With the breakdown of a relationship this remains important and is often difficult to achieve, especially when parents are fearful that their children could be negatively influenced by the other parent not spending enough time with them. As a result, the child’s wishes may be ignored.

Section 8 of the Children’s Act 1989 provides the checklist of all the factors the court must take into account when making any decision concerning a child. Top of the list is ‘the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, in light of their age and understanding’. So in any consideration of arrangements for children their wishes and feelings must be born in mind.

This does not mean that a child dictates arrangements, and, depending on their age, their wishes must be considered in the light of their ability to understand. Ask a young child if they want to do something whilst they are pre-occupied by their favourite cartoon and they will probably say ‘no’. Promise them a treat and their answer may well change. An older child, when expressing their views, is able to do so in the context not just of a wish for the present, but in consideration of a longer-term arrangement.

It is, understandably, very hard to promote a child’s relationship with the other parent when your own relationship with that person has broken down, particularly if you feel hurt or betrayed. However, whilst that person may not have been a good partner, they may remain a good parent and your child deserves to maintain their relationship with them. 

There will always be exceptional cases in which it is inappropriate to continue a child’s relationship with a parent. These remain in the minority and legal advice should be sort.

Studies demonstrate that children deprived of the opportunity to have a relationship with each of their parents fail to thrive in comparison to children who are given that opportunity. This can impact negatively on their academic performance, sense of self-worth, and, in some cases, their own ability to form lasting relationships.

Over four million children now live in separated families, approximately one third of all children in Britain. We need to ensure the arrangements for those children are the best they can be, aiming to put their safety and welfare foremost, encouraging and promoting a relationship with each of their parents.

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