The thought of having to your child speak at a custody hearing can be as hard on you, as a parent, as it is for your child. Because of the anxiety and high emotional state that can accompany a custody hearing, it is not often that children are called upon to speak, and judges are not inclined to bring children into a fray between you and your soon-to-be-ex. The judge will have to be convinced that it’s in your child’s best interest and that your child is competent, meaning that he or she:
- Is of an appropriate age (in Oklahoma, that means at least 12 years old); and
- exhibits maturity and has the ability to recall events accurately and communicate clearly; and
- understands what an oath is and the importance of telling the truth
How the procedure works
Children are not expected to speak in an open courtroom. Instead, your child will speak to the judge “in-camera.” This simply means that your child will have a discussion with the judge in private; usually in the judge’s chambers or office. The interview is recorded by a court reporter. Parents are not present, allowing children to feel less stressed or conflicted. This is important as the most common reason for having your child speak is that they may have a preference as to which parent they wish to live. It does not mean that that the judge will necessarily agree that a child’s preference is in the child’s best interest. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has held that “The preference of the child is just that – a preference. We have never held that a child’s preference is the deciding factor when determining custody or modifying custody. Rather, it is one of the many factors which the Trial Court is required to consider.”
The judge will typically ask the child about their day-to-day interaction with each parent, including:
- Questions to help determine the child’s level of competency, such as their ability to answer inquiries about their name, age, and address
- How do they typically spend their day with each parent?
- Which parent helps them with their homework and attends their school, religious, sports or other extracurricular events?
- Who is more likely to make and transport the child to doctor, dentist or other important appointments?
Determinations are not made based on which parent a child wants to live with because a parent allows them to stay up late or eat pizza every night. It’s about finding out which parent makes the child feel the most secure and is best prepared to ensure that their child’s best interests are met.
Learn more about how we can help you navigate the courts when having your child speak at a custody hearing
We understand how emotionally difficult is for children and you, as a parent, to have your child talk to the judge. To find out how we can help you, discuss your needs and concerns with Norman, Oklahoma child custody attorney RJ Harris. Contact our Norman, OK law office at (405) 979-0179 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation.