WHEN THE JUDGE LISTENS TO THE CHILDREN
When two individuals make a decision to end their marriage or relationship, and parent their children separately, they still have to decide what to do about the custody of their children. All too often, people are unable to agree, and end up going to court to ask a judge to decide.
But, does the court consider a child’s opinion in custody cases? Does a judge take into consideration their preferences?
Sometimes. In some cases, the court must consider the child’s preference before making a decision. In other cases, the court has the option of taking the child’s preference into consideration.
A child’s preference –when is it taken into consideration?
In Tennessee, the court must listen to the preference of a child who is 12 or older and in some cases, younger children. The preferences and opinions of children 14 and older are given the greatest weight. The court may choose to consider the preferences of children under 12, but is not required. The older the child, the more strongly their preference will be considered.
The most important factor taken into consideration is whether a child has the discretion and maturity to express a reasonable preference. The judge is interested in opinions from mature children and may refuse to hear any custodial preferences from children who are 6 and under.
Do courts require children to testify about their custodial preference?
In some cases, the judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem. This is an attorney who represents the best interests of children. A judge can appoint a Guardian either at the request of a parent or in their own discretion. The Guardian ad Litem can present evidence to the court about the preference of the child, but the Guardian ad Litem only argues for a child’s best interests.
If the children do speak to the judge about their preferences, often they do not have to testify in open court. If the judge chooses to hold a private interview outside of the courtroom, the attorneys for the parents may be present, along with the Guardian ad Litem, if any, but parents are generally not allowed during this private session to give children the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about their preference.
-Protecting children’s rights is a founding philosophy of Daugherty, Haas & Associates.
-Kelli Haas has been certified as a Specialist in Child Welfare Law by the National Association of Counsel for Children.
-You can contact Kelli at (615) 567-7304 and at firstname.lastname@example.org – www.khalawgroup.com