I am often contacted by a concerned parent who tells me that his or her child is saying that there is something problematic going on at the other parent's home. The parent often asks if he or she can tell the court what the child has said in order to have the court review parenting time or custody. The problem is that these statements are typically considered hearsay and may also not be reliable as children will sometimes say things that are not entirely accurate or because the child believes that this is what the parent believes or wants to hear. So, the parent cannot testify as to what the child has said to him or her. Further, the judge can interview the child but not about such statements, the judge may only ask the child whether he or she has a preference which parent the child would prefer to live with. Finally, the judge may only do this after the parent has provided enough proof for the judge to determine that there is a problem and that custody or parenting time should at least be reviewed.
In these cases it is often a wise idea to get a therapist or counselor for the child. First, whether the child is telling the complete truth or not, the fact that the child is making such statements often indicate the child could use some help in coping with the situation at home. Second, the therapist should be able to come to a more qualified conclusion, because of training and experience, as to the accuracy of the child's statement. Third, the therapist, counselor or psychiatrist can help the parents and the child work together on their relationships if the statements are not accurate or the situation is not what it appears if one were to simply take the the child's statement at face value. Finally, if the therapist comes to the conclusion that the child's statements are accurate and describe an unacceptable situation, the therapist can testify and tell the court what the child has said.
A child's statement to a doctor, falls under an exception to the hearsay rule. Under this exception to the hearsay rule, statements made for the purposes of seeking medical treatment are not considered hearsay and the person who heard the statement may testify in court as to what the person seeking medical treatment said. Recently the Michigan Court of Appeals held that this applies to children who make statements to therapists and social workers as well as doctors. So even if the child is only meeting with a therapist or social worker rather than a psychologist or psychiatrist, these professionals can also provide the assistance or testify if required. If you have concerns about your current custody or parenting time situation or a divorce might be in your future, please do not hesitate to contact me at (248) 608-4123 or [email protected] to schedule an appointment.
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