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Title:An Empirical Determination of the Competence of Children to Participate in Child Custody Decision-Making
Author(s):Greenberg, Ellen Faye
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Psychology, Clinical
Abstract:The judicial system has traditionally presumed children under the age of 14 incompetent to participate in custody decisions despite the far-reaching impact of such decisions on their lives. Although the majority of state statutes now require the court to solicit the child's preference before rendering a custody decision, they fail to provide adequate, if any, guidelines to determine the weight to be accorded to the child's preference. Even where relevant factors are mentioned (e.g., intelligence, understanding, and experience), it is not clear how these are to be assessed.
The present study operationalizes these constructs in its evaluation of the degree to which children of varying ages and levels of cognitive development are able to employ a rational decision-making process to arrive upon a custodial preference incident to parental divorce. The responses of 144 children from intact families (24 at each of ages 9 to 14) to two hypothetical custody situations reflective of real-life dilemmas were compared to a sample of 24, 18-year-olds and evaluated by a sample of 44 Illinois domestic relations judges. The 9- to 14-year-old age group represented the population of choice, for it is during these years that the child's competence to make informed custody decisions is most in question.
As predicted, the 14-year-olds proved to be as competent as the adults according to five legal tests of competence cited in the literature (i.e., "evidence of choice", "reasonableness of outcome", "rational reasons for choice", "ability to understand", and "actual understanding"). Although the outcomes for the younger children were not as consistent across criteria, even the 9- and 10-year-olds were judged competent by three of the five standards. Taken together, these findings provide empirical validation for the common judicial practice of granting considerable weight to the custodial preference of children 14 years of age or older. However, in accordance with theory and research in cognitive development, the results further suggest that a determination of a child's competence to participate in custody decisions may be better predicated on process-oriented problem-solving skills and divorce knowledge than on age, general intellectual abilities, sex, or socioeconomic level. The implications of these findings for judges, attorneys, and human service professionals involved in custody decision-making are discussed and a model statute proposed.
Issue Date:1983
Description:244 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1983.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8409937
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1983

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