In many divorce cases, the most contentious issues are those regarding the parties’ children. The issues of physical custody, time sharing or visitation, extra-curricular activities, religious education and the cost for college education are routinely in dispute.
Often, well-intentioned parents insist that their proposed resolution on these issues is best. It may be in that particular parent’s best interest, but not necessarily those of the child.
Most experienced family law attorneys will point out to their client that any agreement should be based on what is in the child’s best interest. Attorneys often utilize a “Children’s Bill of Rights” as a guideline to set forth what should be considered by the parents.
While there are many versions of a Children’s Bill of Rights, the following is one example:
- A Child shall not be asked to choose sides between their parents.
- A Child shall not be told the details of their parents’ legal proceedings.
- A Child shall not be told critical statements about the other parent’s behavior or actions. This should also extend to grandparents, other family members, friends or significant others.
- A Child shall always have the right to privacy and confidentiality when communicating with either parent by telephone, text or email.
- A Child shall never be cross-examined by one parent after spending time with the other parent.
- A Child shall never be asked to be, or seen as, a messenger from one parent to the other.
- A Child shall always have the right to express their feelings, whatever those feelings may be, as well as the right to choose not to express certain feelings.
- A Child shall have the right not to be made to feel guilty for loving both parents.
- A Child shall not be pressured or influenced by anyone concerning their opinion of either parent.
- A Child shall be permitted to display photographs of either or both parents in their room and shall be permitted to retain and display any cards or presents given by either parent.
- A Child shall not be told or encouraged to be disrespectful or disobedient to the other parent, stepparent, or relatives.
This language or something similar can be inserted into a settlement agreement signed by both parties at the time of the divorce. It can also be inserted into an amended agreement or post-judgment Order in appropriate cases. It is important to note that the terms in this list are not part of the statutes of the State of New Jersey. But many litigants find that sitting down and reviewing these guidelines can assist in resolving issues concerning the children.