The courts typically try to avoid bringing children into a contested child custody and time-sharing situation. However, courts do recognize that as children grow more mature, they should have greater input into these important decisions. Beginning at age 12, the court will begin to listen more attentively to the child’s wishes. At age 14, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, the child has final say over custody and time-sharing.
Even as the child matures, courts remain reluctant to drag them into custody disputes. Placing the child in a situation where the child is forced to choose between one of the parents can be emotionally devastating. The courts will not allow one parent to present the child as a witness at a child custody trial. Most agree, that allowing the attorneys to examine and cross examine a child at trial is cruel and inhumane. Instead, the child is allowed to speak through counselors, psychologists and other professionals in a non-invasive and non-threatening manner. This typically is done through Family Court Clinic.
However, there are situations where the court will hear the child directly. These situations are very rare and typically occur only when it is the child that has expressed a strong desire through Court Clinic to speak to the judge. Even then, the judge may not allow it depending upon the recommendation of Court Clinic. And, under no circumstances will courts allow a child to be called as a witness at a custody trial. Instead, the judge will typically meet with the child alone in the judges chambers.
Again, the courts and Court Clinic are extremely protective of the child. There are many reasons why a child might want to speak with a judge. These reasons may be good or bad but they are almost always temporary in nature and speaking out in court or to a judge against one parent is something the child will bear forever.