Custody decisions are some of the most difficult decisions family court judges make during a family court case. The overriding consideration when determining custody should be the child's best interest. Therefore, in making this decision, a judge may want to hear the child's preferences and concerns. To that end, there are several ways a child may be heard at a custody hearing.
Our Michigan child custody lawyers understand your concerns about your child testifying in courts. We want to protect your child from this frightening and emotional experience. However, if your child wants to be heard, we want to help ensure that your child's wishes are made very clear to the judge, and he or she has a voice during the custody case.
Can a Child Testify In a Michigan Family Court Hearing?
Yes, the judge can allow a child to testify during a hearing at the judge's discretion. Most judges consider the child's age, maturity, and other relevant facts to determine whether the child should be permitted to testify in court. In many cases, a judge may speak to a child informally in chambers without the parents present. The conversation with the child allows the judge to hear the child's concerns and preferences without requiring the child to go through what could be a psychologically harmful ordeal for the child.
There are cases in which a child's voice must be represented during a custody hearing. For example, when there are allegations of child abuse or neglect, the court can order the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem to represent the child. The Guardian ad Litem acts as the child's legal counsel to conduct a thorough investigation to determine what is in the best interest of the child. The Guardian ad Litem can “speak” for the child to notify the judge about the child's desires and concerns as well as the Guardian's findings during the investigation.
Even when a Guardian ad Litem is appointed, the judge may still allow the child to testify in open court or speak to the child on or off the official record in the judge's chambers.
When Can My Child Decide Which Parent to Live Within a Custody Battle?
There is no magic age that Michigan's courts determine a child has the right to choose which parent to live with during a custody battle. If the child is under 18 years of age, the child is a minor and is not considered competent to make legal decisions for himself or herself.
However, the older a child is at the time of the custody hearing, the more weight a judge will usually give to the child's preference. The “reasonable preference of the child” is one of the “best interests of the child” factors Michigan judges use to decide custody. Therefore, the child's preference is taken into consideration, but only as a factor in determining which parent should have custody of the child.
Contact a Michigan Child Custody Attorney for More Information
When your child says that he or she wants to live with you, it can be frightening and frustrating to think that a judge who does not know you or your child could grant custody to the other parent. Contact Michigan child custody attorney Cameron C. Goulding to determine what is best for your child.