The Children Act 1989 indicates that, when deciding what do to about a child’s contact with an absent parent, we should look at the child’s wishes and feelings:
“Section 1 (3)
In the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4), a court shall have regard in particular to—
the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);”
So, yes, we should look at what the child wants. Mrs Justice Parker has already pointed out the sharp distinction, though, between what a child says he wants, and what he actually wants, highlighting the fact that the Act asks about the child’s ascertainable wishes, not his expressed wishes.
But – even here, we need to pause. Why are we taking a child’s wishes into account at all?
Brian O’Sullivan refers to Linda Gottleib’s work on this, commenting
“Gottleib argues that there is logic for not allowing children to engage in certain activities, such as voting, smoking, drinking alcohol or serving in the army. She asks “How is it then that we so freely abrogate our professional and parental decision-making responsibility to a child in such a critical area as family relationships, specifically the relationship with a non-resident parent”
Additionally, says O’Sullivan
“Fidler et al …advocate caution regarding the power of the voice of the child…They found that many adults who rejected a parent…secretly wished…that someone had recognised they did not mean what they said when they were rejecting that parent”
He points out that
“It is more than inappropriate to place a child in the position of having to choose a parent”
(O’Sullivan, Context Magazine · July 2018)
Asking a child to choose a parent is giving the child inappropriate empowerment. It puts the child in an impossible position. It is cowardly.
Do we ask children their wishes and feelings about going to school, or the dentist, or doing their homework?
Wishes and Feelings reports are a gross abnegation of our parental and societal responsibility.