When Will a Court Hear a Child’s Testimony?
Divorce can be a difficult time for a family, especially for minor children who may struggle with adapting to all of the changes. While many children are not willing to express a preference about which parent they will primarily reside with, some older children may want to speak with the judge. Generally, courts are wary of allowing a child’s testimony in these types of legal matters, but they may decide to do so in certain situations, so if you are going through a divorce and your child has expressed an opinion about where he or she wants to live, you should strongly consider speaking with an experienced child custody attorney who can help ensure that the interests of both you and your child are protected.
Why are Judges Reluctant to Allow a Child to Testify?
The Florida Legislature has not provided a specific age at which minors are allowed to testify, so whether a court will hear a child’s testimony is left largely up to each individual judge and while some judges are willing to take a child’s opinion into account when making a custody determination, most are reluctant to do so out of concern that:
- One of the child’s parents will unduly influence his or her statement;
- Being exposed to the legal process will have a negative effect on the child; or
- The child will feel forced to choose between his or her parents.
Generally, courts are more likely to hear the testimony of teenagers than they are younger children, but are directed to take a number of factors into consideration in either case, including:
- The age of the child;
- How the child will be affected by testifying;
- The child’s relationship to the parties;
- The type of case or issues involved; and
- Whether the child’s testimony is the only way to obtain important information.
Allowing a Child’s Testimony
In the event that a court does allow a child to testify in a family law matter, it is permitted to take certain measures to ensure that the child is protected from the stress of legal proceedings, including:
- Limiting the number of times that a child can be interviewed;
- Prohibiting depositions;
- Requiring the attorneys to submit questions before the examination of the child;
- Changing the place and conditions for interviewing the witness; or
- Permitting or prohibiting the attendance of certain individuals at the proceedings.
For example, many judges who choose to permit a child to testify will speak with the child directly and out of the presence of his or her parents. This is known as an in camera interview and helps to minimize stress on the child, while also reducing any pressure the child may feel from his or her parents. Ultimately, courts will only allow a minor to testify in a family court proceedings if they deem a child to be of sufficient age and maturity to make an independent and reasonable decision.
Call Our Fort Lauderdale Legal Team Today
To speak with experienced Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. about your own family law-related questions or concerns, please call us today at 954-945-7591. We are happy to help you immediately.