Child custody laws are in place to help a judge determine who should have custody of a child following a divorce. The primary purpose for the court’s decision is to do only what is in the child’s best interests. To determine what those best interests may be, judges often use standard guidelines. Depending on the judge, one of these guidelines often includes the child’s preference.
It is almost unheard of for children to testify before an open court. The experience can be traumatic for children of all ages and is greatly frowned upon. To create a legal record of the child’s preference, a judge with speak personally with them. This allows the judge to read body language, identify if parent coaching is an issue, and make the most informed decision possible.
When it’s time for the judge to meet with the children, he or she will often ask specific questions that focus on each child’s relationship with their parents on an individual basis. The goal is to determine which parent would provide the best care and who the child feels most comfortable living with. In cases where trauma may be an issue, a judge may ask a licensed child psychologist to carry out this meeting instead.
During court proceedings, experienced child custody attorneys can be adept at getting the court to side with their clients. They may show evidence that the other parent is unfit for physical custody, such as drug or alcohol abuse, previous instances of neglect, or an unwillingness to put the child’s needs first. In other cases, the attorney may simply show that one parent was the primary caretaker for the majority of the child’s life.
When children are old enough to clearly state that they have a preference about their living arrangements and detail why, judges often take their wishes into consideration. Their age and perceived maturity level are often a major factor judges use to give weight to or detract from their preferences. Children who are capable of discussing their wishes may have the best chances of being granted their preferred custody arrangement.