New Jersey law states that children over the age of ten are able to express their views in an intelligent and helpful matter, and thus should be allowed to testify in court. And what court action could be more important to a child than a hearing determining which of the child’s parents will get custody?
New Jersey state courts are trending toward allowing more children more of a say in their own living situation and relationship with their parents. An Essex County family law judge had a hand in authoring a new report by Advocates for Children.
The report asserts that allowing the children to participate in the custody hearings leads to better decisions based on more information. The same judge who contributed to the report used to request a picture of the involved children be attached to every case file she handled, so that she might remember what was at stake.
Increased participation may also lead to happier children. One graduate student interviewed by the ABA Journal describes feeling helpless during child protection proceedings that impacted child custody. She was thirteen at the time, and the family court was deciding whether to return her to her drug-addicted mother. She was willing to testify at the hearing but was never called. She also wrote a letter to the judge, but does not believe that it was read.
If testifying in court proceedings is healthy and helpful to a child, no parent would want to deny a child that benefit. But what if testifying ultimately harms the child in issue? A child may feel an incredible weight on his or her shoulders if asked who they would rather live with — Mommy or Daddy. Courts must also take into account the individual child’s maturity level, as all children do not develop at the same rate.
Source: ABA Journal, “Courts in New Jersey to Try Harder to Include Children in Custody Hearings,” Martha Neil, July 6, 2011