Children in the Courtroom: Can my child talk to the Judge about their wishes for Custody or Parenting Time?

Sad-looking-girl-with-her-fighting-parentsIf there is anything that a Court despises, it is having children subject to domestic relations proceedings present in the courtroom.  They are not welcome as spectators; in fact, some counties even have a “children’s room” where children can stay while court proceedings are going on.  In Cook County, you must bring a copy of your court order showing that you actually have court that day.

 

Litigants going through a custody or visitation dispute often want to know if their child can “talk to the Judge”.  The opportunity for a minor child to speak directly to a domestic relations Judge is called an “In Camera Interview”.  Minor children do not get put on the stand to testify in domestic relations proceedings.  The In Camera occurs in the Judge’s chambers, usually with a court reporter and a Guardian Ad Litem or a Child Representative present as well.  Attorneys for the parents, or the parents themselves, may be present, but typically a Judge will ask the attorneys and parents to waive this right, and have a court reporter available instead, as this encourages the children to speak more freely than if their parents or parents’ attorneys were present.
Even though the Court does have the means to hear from the minor children directly, they will typically exhaust every avenue they can before they actually bring the children in to the courtroom.  Courts will appoint Guardian Ad Litems or Child Representative’s to the case to try and find out the children’s opinions, which may or may not be important to the case.  (The Court must consider the wishes of a child that is mature enough to make such a determination, but the Court only has to consider it—they don’t have to do what the child wants, per se, they have to do what is in the child’s best interests.)  A lot of times children don’t know what is in their best interests and they can be motivated to want to live with a parent for other reasons, such as wanting to live with the parent that is less strict, etc.  Judges typically will consider the opinion of a child age fourteen (14) or older, but sometimes there are exceptions and it depends upon the maturity level of the child.  Usually courts can accomplish finding out what the children want by speaking to the Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative, and the Court will thus find that an In camera interview is not necessary.  The bottom line is that In Camera interviews are not easy to set, and are used with extreme caution by Judges.

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