Two sisters and their brother are collecting signatures in their home state of Connecticut to take an idea to state legislators. Their petition has to do with how kids participate in custody decisions. If they are successful, the idea could catch on with children in Illinois and elsewhere.
It may not be popular with the courts, though. What the siblings want is direct access to the judge who is making the custody determination in their parents' divorce. Their proposal would give children over age 12 the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the judge if there were a custody dispute. Currently, the court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the children.
The kids, who are 13, 12 and 10, believe that older children are better at explaining their own needs than a legal representative can ever be. The concern seems to be that the message will be miscommunicated or watered down if it has to go through a "middle man."
Family law practitioners say the guardian system works well specifically because it keeps children out of the fray. If the societal goal is to foster meaningful relationships with both parents, involvement of children in the proceedings could be detrimental. In a custody dispute, things can get unpleasant, and kids don't need to see their parents acting that way.
In Connecticut, as in Illinois, the court takes into account a child's wishes and many other factors when deciding custody matters. And, mental health experts have said that asking a child to testify in a custody battle could have a negative effect on his or her emotional well-being.
Another legal professional commented that the rules of family law are perhaps too complex for a 12 year old to grasp. He doubted a minor child could represent himself or herself adequately.
The sibling activists disagree. "It's not like we speak a different language," said the daughter who is spearheading the signature drive.
Resource: The News-Times (Danbury, CT) "Siblings Aim to Change Child Custody Law" 10/10/10