Bill Seeks to Allow Children Under 10 Years to Address Court in Child Custody Disputes
In the state of California, existing family law requires the court to consider several factors in determining child custody issues, one of which is the child’s preference. Great weight is given to the child’s wishes particularly when the child is of sufficient age and is able to form an intelligent preference with regard to custody or visitation. When the child is at least 14 years of age, he or she may be allowed to address the court for purposes of communicating his or her preference in child custody, unless the court should determine that addressing the court will not be in the child’s best interests.
New Bill to Lower Minimum Age
This year, however, a California state senator has filed a new bill to lower the minimum age of a child who wishes to communicate his or her preference in custody cases. If approved, children who are at least 10 years old may be given the opportunity to express their preference before the court.
Advocates claim that the bill can be a vital safety measure that can help keep a child away from an abusive parent. But detractors of the proposed law warn of the psychological harm on children of that age who may be placed in the middle of their parents’ conflict and of the potential guilt feelings that a child may develop from having to choose one parent over the other.
Proponents of the bill have incorporated safety measures to help prevent children from being manipulated into testifying against the other parent or to prevent the child from being placed in the middle of the parents’ ongoing conflict.
These safety measures include:
- The court’s prior determination of the child’s voluntariness in testifying
- Providing the child an age-appropriate form which explains the process of addressing the court, how their testimony should only be done voluntarily, and reasons why they might not want to address the court
- If the child is not willing to testify, he or she would be given alternative means of expressing their preference or input in the custody issue
Child’s Preference Only One of Several Factors
It must be noted that the proposed law does not change the way the court will determine the issue of child custody. The child’s preference is just one of several factors that the court will have to weigh before deciding custody.
If you are facing child custody problems, it’s important to seek an attorney who can provide you with legal advice and help you take the next steps for resolving your situation. We invite you to contact the Los Angeles family law attorneys of Lavinsky Law firm today at (310) 274-2717.