Children as Witnesses

By Staff Writer

If you are involved in or facing a custody dispute, you are probably concerned about the impact of the court case on your child. It is often incorrectly assumed that if you go to Court, your child will be forced to decide between you and your spouse as parents or, worse yet, that your child will be called as a witness to testify at trial.

Although custody issues do directly concern your children, your children are not directly involved in the Court process. Courts take particular care not to subject children to the disputes and adult issues facing their parents. Special protections have been built into the system to protect children from being placed in the middle of a contentious custody battle.

Even if you feel that the issues involved in the custody or visitation proceeding directly involve your children, they should not be brought to Court unless a Judge gives specific directions to do so. Children are rarely present in Court during custody disputes and are also rarely called as witnesses at trial, even if they have witnessed incidents alleged by one of the parents.

Some states have attorneys or advocates appointed to represent children in custody matters. It is the job of those individuals to represent the children and advocate for their best interests. If a child witnessed an incident that is at issue in the case, the attorney or advocate appointed to represent the child can question the child directly about what he or she observed.

Some Judges also hold what are known as in camera interviews with children. A request for such an interview does not guarantee that the Court will conduct it. If the Court does not believe that the interview is necessary, it can decline the request. However, even if a specific request was not made for an interview, the Court can Order that an in camera interview be held.

During an in camera interview, the child or children will come to Court to meet with the Judge assigned to the case. The children may be accompanied by his or her appointed attorney or advocate and will meet privately with a Judge. A Court reporter is usually present. At the interview the Judge will question the children about the case and discuss issues appropriate to the child . This process is designed to make the children as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.