Child custody cases are emotionally charged and complex legal proceedings that require careful consideration of the best interests of the child. According to California family code 3042(a), “If a child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation, the court shall consider, and give due weight to, the wishes of the child in making an order granting or modifying custody or visitation.” Essentially, because of this family code, children can share their preference to the courts regarding custody or visitation, and courts usually get this information through an interview.
In the child interview, the court seeks to understand the child’s perspective, preferences, and emotional well-being. In this blog, we will explore the significance of child interviews in custody cases, the process involved, and the ethical considerations that must be taken into account.
Importance of Child Custody Interviews
Child interviews play a pivotal role in custody cases as they offer the court valuable insights into the child’s experiences, relationships, and preferences. By giving children a voice in the legal process, the court aims to make informed decisions that prioritize the child’s best interests. However, conducting child interviews requires a delicate balance between obtaining relevant information and protecting the child from stress of their parent’s divorce.
Would a Child be Required to Participate in a Custody Interview?
A child’s participation in an interview with the court is not mandated and will be considered on a case by case basis. There is no requirement that they have to speak with the court, it is more so if the child wants to add their input to their custody case.
Depending on the age of the child, the court will determine if they can participate. For those who are 14 or older, if they want to speak with the court, they must be permitted to do so unless the court thinks it will harm the child by speaking their opinion.
As for those younger than 14 years old, the court first determines if speaking their opinion would be harmful or beneficial, and then may provide input into the case if they want to.
Child interviews are typically conducted by a trained professional, such as a child psychologist, social worker, or family counselor. These professionals are skilled in creating a safe and comfortable environment for the child, allowing them to express themselves freely and wholly. At times, the child custody attorney may also conduct the interview. The interviews are conducted in a neutral setting, often away from the courtroom, to minimize any intimidation or stress the child may feel.
It’s crucial to note that the age and maturity of the child influence the nature of the interview. Younger children may express themselves through play or drawings, while older children may engage in more direct conversations. The interviewer’s goal is to gather relevant information without influencing the child’s responses or causing emotional harm.
Child interviews in custody cases are a powerful tool for the court to make decisions that serve the best interests of the child. By employing trained professionals and adhering to ethical standards, the legal system can ensure that these interviews contribute to fair and well-informed custody determinations. Balancing the legal process with the emotional well-being of the child is a delicate task, and it requires a thoughtful and child-centric approach from all parties involved.