A divorce impacts the entire family, especially child custody and visitation rights. The divorce process is so very adult. Parents and their attorneys, all well dressed in suits, meet in wood paneled courtrooms with all the formalities that come with appearing before a judge. Even a suit isn’t formal enough for a judge, he or she needs to wear a robe. Should the child’s opinion play a role in such a process? How would a child fit into this proceeding?
Under California law, child who is at least 14 years old must be allowed to directly address the court regarding custody and visitation, unless judge finds that it would not be in child’s best interests (if so. the reasons must be stated on the record). Children younger than 14 aren’t prevented from addressing the Court on these issues, if that’s deemed appropriate and consistent with the best interest of the child. If barred from testifying, children must be given another way to voice their opinion, such as through a mediator or a psychologist.
There are pro’s and cons to getting input from a child. This can put the child in a very difficult spot, especially if the parents not only are getting divorced, but one or both plan on moving away. If the child is mature, articulate and not too stressed out, given the serious impact on the child’s life, hearing from the child is a good idea. If the parents are manipulative and the child is more interested in living with the parent who enforces the least rules, this can be a bad idea.
This is a very sensitive area where we tread with much care so we, and our clients, do not appear to ask a child to take sides in what can be a very emotional dispute. If the child’s opinion is for our client, all the better, but the judge is the ultimate decision maker on how the child voices his or her opinion, how much weight that opinion should be given and on the custody and visitation issues in general.
If you have any questions about visitation or custody issues, contact our office.