One way to help resolve conflicts between parents who disagree about the best interests of children is to have children participate in a views and preferences interview. These interviews may give parents insight into what decisions would be best for the children. A views and preferences interview may include a discussion about the parenting time schedule, activities, residences, transitions, and any stressors a child experiences because of the family transition. These interviews allow for “voice, not choice”, as children should never be placed in the position of choosing between mom and dad.
Children often find the views and preferences interviews helpful as they know their opinions and views are being heard by the adults who ultimately will make decisions about their care. Some factors to consider when determining if a child should participate in views and preferences interviews include:
- The age of the child, as this may affect the child’s ability to form an independent opinion. A skilled child interviewer will determine whether the child can provide an independent opinion and speak to the significant issues.
- Views and preferences interviews are helpful when a child has presented contradictory information to the parents. It can also help a parent find a more child-focused understanding of where the child is at, instead of assuming the other parent has influenced the child.
- The professional providing the views and preferences information can also be a neutral voice when it comes to considering what is really in a child’s best interests. When there is a major discrepancy about best interests, the professional may be able to facilitate a more productive discussion about child development issues and best interest discussions that are also based on feedback from the child. Parents may benefit from hearing a professional’s opinion that is grounded in literature and education.
- If mobility is the issue, views and preferences of the child may be helpful, as the professional can help the parents understand a child’s connection to a certain community and the child’s ability to be resilient to the changes.
- If a child presents “all good” or “all bad” thinking about a parent’s home to the other parent, a views and preferences interview may help to obtain a more accurate picture of what a child experiences in each environment.
- When there are allegations of alienation, a views and preferences interview may help the child articulate the level of influence each parent has had and help the child articulate if there are genuine concerns about one home. Note: If the allegations of alienation are so significant, such that a child has no contact with the parent, a more fulsome assessment may be required.
- Obtaining views is often not recommended if there exist concerns that:
- Parents could misuse information;
- Parents are likely to manipulate children;
- One or the other parent has no interest in knowing the child’s needs;
- Parents do not want, or disagree about, the effect of including the children;
- Child sexual abuse is involved.
Although involving children in interviews may not be a first step to resolving conflicts between parents who are separated, it can be a very helpful part of the process in the hands of an experienced and qualified professional. Views and preferences interviews can provide a safe environment for children to raise concerns about parents and generate solutions without fear of upsetting either parent, fear of getting in trouble, or being dismissed. This process can help kids communicate concerns to parents, helping parents hear and gain insight into their child’s experience.