Is it about the parents or the children?

I was recently asked by a Commissioner, “Ms. Long, would it be fair to ask, in your opinion, should parents focus more on their children’s needs and desires rather than how much parenting time they receive?” Since I was acting as an expert witness on this case, I provided a standard answer, “The children shall be the center focus, and the decisions made are based on the children’s best interests.”   After leaving the court room I began to ponder more about this question, and explored what the true meaning of “best interests of the child.”

Although there does not appear to be a definitive answer for what “the best interests of the child means”, the ‘best interests’ concept derives from the courts determining several key factors (child

1. The emotional ties and bonding between the parent(s) or caregivers, including siblings. 

2. The capacity of the parents to provide a safe environment, with adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical. 

3. The mental and physical health needs of the children. 

4. The mental and physical health needs of the parents.

5. The presence of any past or present Domestic Violence within the home. 

6. The presence of any subastance abuse issues.

7. The child’s wishes (depends on age and maturity). 

While the above listed key factors are obvious and shall be taken into account when determining parenting time, we must review some other relevant factors that may be possibly secretly denied by the courts or argued by the attorneys/parties. Children do not come with a price tag, nor are children up for sale. Parents who argue about 30%, 50%, 70%, etc. of parenting time and negotiate who decides what the children can and cannot do is potentially dangerous to these children. Parenting plans are considered legal binding and if they are not followed as written, one or both parents may be in contempt of law. Contempt, in layman’s terms, is a legal order that is not being followed and a Judge may issue all sorts of penalties, including jail time and financial payment. Parents argue all the time in court, disagree on what the parenting plan says, do not follow the parenting plan as written, etc. What about the children? Where is their voice? And what about the developmental stages; a three-year-old has different needs than a twelve-year-old; and a sixteen-year-old is more interested in their social, extra curricular, education, etc. You get the gist of what is being discussed and parents still argue amongst themselves regardless of the needs and wants of their children/teenagers. Just stop for a moment and reflect (if you really care about your kid); what is the best interest my child?

Courts are looking to professionals to make recommendations for the children and teenagers. Family courts are beginning to sway toward the children’s needs and wants especially when they are older. Family courts are even providing more guidance toward adding different stages in the parenting plan due to their ages and development. Additionally, courts are finally recognizing the importance of extra curricular activities and social aspects of the children’s lives. So, parents, if you are truly interested in the best interests of your children; truly hear them and do your best to incorporating their wishes into the parenting plan.

When I testify in court again and the Judge asks me about the best interests of the children; I will provide a more detailed answer based on the child and their family history. We need to listen to the children and teenagers out there going through these tough situations. It has nothing to do with the amount of time each parent receives, it is about the quality of time and allowing the child to grow and prosper.

Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Owner and Founder of Long Counseling and Evaluation Services, PLLC

Published by longcounseling

Rochelle Long is a Licensed Mental Health Therapist, Divorce Coach, and Child Specialist specializing in individual, couples, children and adolescent, and family therapy, and maintains a private practice in Everett, Washington. Rochelle Long also works with youth, young adult, and adult athletes and provides mental fitness training to help the athlete find their inner strength and help build (or re-build) their self-esteem, goals, etc. Rochelle Long also works with families in conjunction with the athlete due to the high stress and demands placed on athletes today. With over fourteen years experience as a Licensed therapist and child specialist, and as a graduate of Sage University, Albany, NY specializing in Clinical Psychology, I am currently serving as a private practitioner working with a broad spectrum of clients. Among my areas of expertise are mental fitness training with athletes at all levels, depression and anxiety, eating issues/body image, divorce/separation/high conflict cases, parenting issues, co-parent counseling, children and adolescents, couples and family counseling. In addition to being a prominent family systems therapist, I also work with many high conflict cases and help many divorcing/separating couples resolve their differences without going to court. I believe we have the ability to work out differences when we can surpass our emotions and truly feel heard. I assist divorcing/separating couples deal with their emotional pain and help them work together collaboratively for what is best for their family. I help them get from "couple mode to parent mode." I also work as a Child Specialist and assist the children to have a "voice" about their parents divorce/separation. Additionally, I help families reconnect through "reunification" and "supervised visits" with the goal of reuniting children and families back together. I am also an interactive, solution-focused therapist, and cognitive behavioral therapist. This therapeutic approach is to provide support and practical feedback to help clients effectively address personal life challenges. I integrate complementary methodologies and techniques to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client. With compassion and understanding, I work with each individual to help them build on their strengths and attain the personal growth they are committed to accomplishing. Additionally, I work with athletes at all levels, from beginners to competing levels. Rochelle Long has extensive experience working with athletes and mental fitness training to help the athlete find their inner strengths, goals, and experiences to produce better performance and outcome both in the sport, and personally. She works with parents and families as well to help them understand the pressures placed on athletes today, and ways to encourage them from the 'sidelines' and not be the 'other coach.' Rochelle Long works with coaches to help them find ways to understand the mental component in sports, and techniques that will better help their athletes. I am a member with American Mental Health Association (AMHA), International Academy Collaborative Law (IACP), AFCC (Association of family and conciliation courts). King County Collaborative Law (KCCL), North Sound Collaborative Law, Mediation Services, Supervised Network (SN), ACSM, USAH, and Peak Performance.

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