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I am often asked how much of a say the children themselves should have when decisions about custody are being made. This question mirrors the tension, felt by everyone who cares for children in one capacity or another, between the need to be a protector’ and a liberator’ – the need to cherish the weak and dependent and, at the same time, encourage growth, autonomy and independence in children. It is often very difficult to get just the right balance. However, in this instance, while children need to be given appropriate opportunities to make decisions and take responsibility for many aspects of their own lives, we cannot expect them to foresee the consequences of decisions which even the adults responsible for them shrink from making. Asking them for their views, helping them to talk about what they like and dislike about being with each parent and about the pain and loss they feel when they say goodbye at the end of a visit is a very different matter from pressing the burden of decision-making upon them. This became very plain to me when I was asked to talk to a friend’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Louise, about her parents’ separation some six months earlier.

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