We recently attended a training session entitled ‘Young children have a lot to tell us about themselves.’ This session focused on children and the ways in which they can communicate their views. This is particularly important when it comes to making arrangements for children after a separation.

The training session, convened by Averil Foster of our office along with Dr Sue Packer facilitated a discussion about how we can better listen to children and their views. Dr Packer is a pediatrician with the Child at Risk Health Unit at the Canberra Hospital. The main considerations were whether we can be better at hearing what children have to tell us.

From a legal perspective, when the Court makes a decision about the care arrangements for children there is a two tiered approach undertaken. The overarching principle is that any decision must be in the best interests of the child. The two primary considerations for making a decision in the child’s best interests are that the child has a meaningful relationship with both parents, but that this is subject to the child being protected from harm.

In addressing these considerations the Court takes into account a number of other factors, one of which is the views and attitude of the child.

The training explored how young children can contribute to the decisions made about them. This is a really important consideration, not only for the Court but for legal practitioners. It can be easy to get caught up in conflict following a separation and forget that the decisions being made can have a huge impact on the children involved.

There are ways we can ‘listen’ to children, beyond just the words they tell us. It is important to keep the best interests of the children at the forefront of all decision making. This often involves listening to children’s views and studying their behaviour to determine how a proposed decision may affect them. Dr Packer suggests we as adults, with the ability to affect decisions about children, should try to focus on doing ‘with’ children rather than doing ‘to’ children.

If you have separated from your partner and are interested in reaching an agreement in the best interests of your children, there are a number of ways we can help.

Our firm specialises in Collaborative Law; a process focused on the interests of the parties, rather than their adversarial positions. In this process, we can engage child psychologists or other collaboratively trained professionals to assist us in ‘hearing’ the voices of children. We can help you and your partner to reach an agreement which works for all involved, especially the children.