Child Custody: The Best Interests of the Child?
Abigail and Victor are caught in the middle. Their mom and dad have decided to divorce. There is, of course, the small problem that mom is French and wants to take the kids back to Normandy and, similarly, dad is English and would quite like them to stay in the UK. Since they've been living in England for around ten years and they can't agree on custody arrangements for themselves, the English family court system must decide for them.
Although legal systems vary around the world, when it comes to child custody, all nationalities appear to be more or less in agreement that the best interests of the child come first. To judge what the best interests of a child actually are when there are two equally satisfactory options on the table must be the most enormous headache for family court judges. To add to the confusion, where children are under the age of 12, like Abigail and Victor, their opinion about which parent to live with is considered to be potentially tainted and may or may not be taken into consideration.
The hearings in England are private and charged with emotion. Even the most civilized of couples may descend to levels of accusation they might previously have considered unthinkable in an attempt to have the decision made in their favor. It is quite common for allegations of abuse and brainwashing to surface and for drug or alcohol addiction to be tabled as evidence of irresponsible behavior where there may have been no prior reason for such suspicions.
The reason why the custody decision is such a serious one is illustrated most vividly by the fact that the majority of cases, around 80%, are settled in favor of the mother but the statistics regarding children from fatherless homes makes chilling reading. A massive 85% of our youth prison population comes from fatherless homes as do 75% of adolescent chemical abuse patients. 71% of high school drop-outs and a staggering 90% of all homeless and runaway children can cite an absent father as a symptom of their behavior.
Although Abigail and Victor will benefit from a solid home life in France including a supportive stepfather, this does not guarantee happiness. Abigail, the elder of the two, is strongly attached to her father and sees subversion and domestic disruption as her only tool of protest. Victor is more adaptable and, being younger, seems to easily accept the changes at a superficial level but only the passing years will uncover what damage may have been done.
These children can count themselves lucky. They are not among the 40% of children from broken homes who have lost contact with their father. The contact arrangements across national boundaries are less satisfactory than they would be if the parents lived only miles apart but with a degree of perseverance and goodwill on both sides, they see dad 6 times a year for long weekends and vacations. It's not the perfect way to raise kids but it works.
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