Family Law Matters Do Matter In A Child's Life

Family dynamics do not start in courtrooms but important family changes and decisions are often formalized through legal actions such as:

  • Divorce and separation of parents
  • Military divorce that may involve long absences of a deployed parent
  • Formation and dissolution of domestic partnerships
  • Any legal matter associated with a nontraditional family, such as LGBT families and unmarried couples raising children together
  • Banishment of a parent from the home through a restraining order
  • Return of a parent to the home after a restraining order has been lifted
  • Removal of children from parents' homes by government agencies
  • Reunification of children and parents after removal by government agencies
  • Custody and visitation orders, whether related to a divorce or to a foster parenting
  • Grandparents' rights; grandparent-grandchild relationships sometimes facilitated by legal arrangements such as guardianships, custody, visitation and adoption
  • Adoptions, including stepparent adoptions and adoptions by other family members
  • Paternity actions
  • Modification of court orders
  • Guardianship appointments

We adults inherently understand the vulnerable nature of children. They are affected by adults' actions and omissions. Their understanding of the world and their sense of well-being can be impacted for a lifetime as a result of events in their family relationships. Parent-child bonds and siblings' relationships can be weakened or strengthened based on outcomes in child custody cases, as well as other legal matters cited in the list above.

Adults In A Child's Life — And Society At Large — Have Responsibilities To Children, Including In Legal Proceedings

Parents and other adults in a child's life need to understand that in legal matters, the court will always watch out for children's best interests. Parental rights are real but when parents' wishes and a child's health and welfare are at odds, a family law judge will normally prioritize a child's well-being.

Questions sometimes arise regarding whether a child should have a say when a court is deciding on custody, visitation, stepparent adoption or any legal matter pertaining to that child. An internet article entitled "Children's voices in family law" (included in the list of sources below) summarizes children's rights in legal proceedings in other countries as well as in the U.S. The author mentions that children aged 14 and above may have a say in their own custody cases.

Parents and others often worry about how divorce will affect children. It might be more accurate to discuss how absence from a parent affects a child. Some parents, though divorced or separated, truly put their children's needs first. Through deliberate efforts by caring parents, a child of divorce can often retain an ongoing living relationship with both parents despite logistical challenges when parents live in different households.

Professor Robert Emery, Ph.D., in his article, "How Divorce Affects Children," makes a strong case for the natural resilience of many children. At the same time, he acknowledges that children often carry painful memories related to their parents' conflicts. He alludes to ways parents can make a difference for their children in any circumstances.

During divorce proceedings or as part of a child custody case in the court, lawyers and others often draw on experts, such as child psychologists, to bolster their parents' positions. These expert witnesses can greatly influence a case.

Beyond emotional concerns, divorcing and separated parents must grapple with many practical matters, including child support and transportation to facilitate child visitation orders. The articles listed below entitled "Changing A Child Support Order" and "Guidelines For Child Custody Evaluations In Your Family Law Proceedings" discuss many of the nuts and bolts that go into determining these important family law issues affecting children and their parents.

Individuals and couples dealing with children's legal issues are encouraged to consult with attorneys as well as other types of counselors to understand the impact on their children of their changing family situations. Lawyers and other professionals can provide relevant resources, such as these articles listed below, to provide food for thought on ways to promote children's best interests.

Aglietti, Offret & Woofter in Anchorage offers clients the advantages of years of experience in family law practice, with many valuable insights to offer clients when legal issues affect a child. Call 907-519-6605 or email us to schedule a consultation on your child-related legal matter.

Sources

How divorce affects children, by Robert Emery, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia: http://emeryondivorce.com/how_divorce_affects_children.php

Children's voices in family law, by Benedetta Faedi Duramy, JSD, an associate professor at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco who obtained her doctoral degree from Stanford Law School: https://blog.oup.com/2015/07/children-participation-family-law/

Alaska — Changing a child support order in your state, from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/ak_cs_order.pdf

Guidelines for child custody evaluations in your family law proceedings, from the American Psychological Foundation: http://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/child-custody.aspx