Many California children of divorced or unmarried parents eventually reach an age where they begin expressing their desires to live with their non-custodial parents. Parents may have questions about their children’s rights to address the court during divorce proceedings or child custody modification hearings.
California family court rules have established guidelines for when children are allowed to address the court. Certain professionals who interview children or who investigate or evaluate their homes or other aspects of their lives must tell judges when they have information that a child wants to address the court. In general, judges will allow children to speak in court if they are over the age 14 or if they have the ability to articulate their wishes to live with one of their parents. Judges must consider the child’s best interests when making the decision on whether to allow them to speak in court.
In some cases, judges will determine it is not in a child’s best interest to testify, especially if they are too young or if the judge believes that they are unable to form an intelligent opinion about their living arrangements. However, in other cases, a judge may opt to take the child’s testimony through alternative means. People who work as counselors or mediators talk to children about many issues, including their preferred living arrangements. These people can provide information that children disclose to them under certain circumstances, and this testimony may be used in court in lieu of allowing children to address the court directly.
Children often feel pressure from one parent to say that they have a preferred living arrangement. Attorneys in child custody cases may be able to help parents request an evaluation where only an interviewer is present with the child to allow them to express their wishes freely without parental influence.