Common questions after a divorce center on aspects such as which parent will have primary custody of the child, and what the visitation rights of the other parent will consist of. These types of elements can be one of the most challenging facets of separation.
Parents often do not want to place their kids amidst a custody battle. However, they may want to understand whether children have a voice in the custody discussion in Connecticut.
Under what circumstances will a Judge Consider a Child’s Preference?
Connecticut does not have a specific age at which a court must consider a child’s preference. Regardless, a judge will usually consider the opinion of minors aged 13 years or above and disregard the preferences of children who are five years old or younger.
But when a child is aged between five and 13 years, the court determines whether the opinions of the child are relevant to the custody determination on an individual case basis.
The court will hear a child’s preference, and then try to understand whether the child is making a judicious choice about the parent they want to reside with instead of just an impulsive decision based on immediate choices.
For instance, a judge is not likely to see a child’s preference as relevant if it is based on temporary anger against one parent or the child’s child-like proclivities. But if the child’s choices are based on a genuine reason, such as a close relationship with one parent or a better school opportunity, courts are more inclined to consider it.
Upon determining that a child’s preference is relevant to the custody determination, the judge will decide how much weight the preference warrants in comparison to other custody factors. The child’s reasoning for the preference and their maturity level can impact how much importance the court assigns to their opinion.
If a judge determines that the preference is not in the best interests of the child, they can disregard the opinion.
Is it Necessary for Children to Testify about their Custody Preferences in Court?
The legal system in Connecticut is very sensitive to the challenges a child might face when called to testify in court. In general, a child will not need to testify on the witness stand in front of a judge. It is more common for the judge to seek the parent’s permission to speak to the child in chambers, without the presence of the parents.
In case the parents choose not to agree to the interview, the judge may gauge the child’s preference through a psychiatrist, a family-relations counselor, or a psychologist who can talk to the child and provide the court with a report.
A judge may also hear limited remarks of other witnesses who have interacted with the child. However, this testimony will not be given as much importance as the child’s direct statements.
If the parents agree to an in-chambers interview, their lawyers may observe. To ensure that the child is not overly stressed, the judge will typically ask questions (not lawyers). But the attorneys can recommend topics or issues that should be addressed.
In case a lawyer is representing the child, they will be present. For children who do not have attorneys, a domestic relations officer might be present during the interview to represent the interests of the child.
Finally, a court reporter will typically record the interview. In the absence of a court reporter, the judge must make their own records by restating the interview content and allowing others present to add their observations.
Courts are also vigilant for any indication that the child has been coached by one parent to testify in their favor or against the other parent. If a parent attempts to steer the child’s testimony in any direction, it can go against them in the judge’s custodial determination.
An Out-of-Court Child Custody Agreement in Your Child’s Interest
Instead of putting an innocent child in the middle of a legal battle, arriving at an out-of-court arrangement is almost always better. The advantages of a custody arrangement out-of-court are as follows:
It can be a very emotional, challenging, and contentious process to go to court for anyone, more so a child.
If your divorce is on the verge of being finalized, working with the other parent to arrive at an out-of-court custodial arrangement can make the process faster.
More Amicable Parenting Plan
No one wants to be told by a judge how much time they will be allowed to spend with their child. However, if you and your spouse cooperate to decide this, you will likely create a parenting plan that both parties are comfortable with.
Speak to an Experienced Family Law Attorney Today
The knowledgeable and compassionate attorneys at APEX Law Firm, LLC understand how challenging it can be to reach an agreement regarding the custody of a child. Our experienced lawyers can guide you in the development of a parenting plan as well as represent you at negotiation, mediation, and litigation.
During this unprecedented time for our country, the Connecticut courts are closed for all but emergency hearings. This means family legal matters such as divorce and child custody proceedings will move much more slowly until the courts reopen and clear their backlog of cases.
At the APEX Law Firm, LLC, we want you to know that we are here for you during this difficult time. Like everyone else, we are doing most of our work remotely as we follow social distancing guidelines, and of course the wheels of justice are turning more slowly these days. But even in the face of all this, we are still well-equipped to continue providing the strong personalized representation our clients have come to expect.
Message us online or call us today at (860) 900-0900 to set-up a consultation with our Connecticut family law attorneys.