Can my child participate in my divorce proceedings?

Divorces prove difficult for all parties. Yet when divorces involve child custody, emotions fill the courtroom. It is essential that you keep your child’s best interest in mind when obtaining custodial rights and determining visitation as these decisions have a significant impact on your child’s development.

In California, children can opt in to participating and testifying in court proceedings regarding custody. Due to each child’s differences and sensitivity, the court maintains that a judge will never force a child to participate, but children old enough to understand the depth of their custody arrangement can have their moment in court. Understanding the process and guidelines in your child’s participation during your divorce is essential when separating and deciding their custody arrangements.

A child’s say in custody arrangements

According to California law, as each divorce case proves substantially different, children may participate on a case-by-case basis. The court should keep in mind:

  1. The protection of the child from adult topics
  2. The duty to hear and consider the wishes of the child; and
  3. The value of the input and evidence that a child may bring as a witness

For a court to hear your child’s testimony, your child must be at least 14 years of age or older. Among other considerations, before agreeing to the child’s participation, a judge will consider:

  • Whether the child is old enough and is able to form a preference in custody
  • Whether the child is developed enough to understand the circumstances of custody
  • Whether the child will face emotional distress if he or she is allowed or denied the ability to testify
  • Whether what the child may say is relevant to custody testimony

Though many parents do not wish to subject their children to court proceedings, many families utilize their child’s preferences.

Taking your child’s testimony into consideration

If a court determines that a child’s testimony will benefit both the child and the parents, a court will:

  • Fully document all of the child’s testimony and opinion
  • Describe the child’s input in total detail
  • File the document in a confidential portion of the proceedings

A judge determines whether the testimony of your child will affect their decision based entirely on their best interest. Because a court does not present all details of your separation to your child in court, a judge has the ability to differentiate a child’s needs and their wants. It is important to understand that if you divorce in California, your child has the ability to bring testimony in court if he or she wishes.

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