What questions might a judge ask a child at a custody hearing?

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2024 | Child Custody |

When Pennsylvania parents with minor children decide to divorce, their custody issues are often among the most hotly-contested aspects of their divorces. Parents may actively seek as much time as possible with their children and may find it impossible to cooperate with one another to set amicable custody terms.

When custody matters go to trial, a family law judge decides how to split up parenting time and legal authority over the children. They look carefully at family circumstances to establish what should be in the best interests of the children. Occasionally, the children may need to play a role in that process. A Pennsylvania judge can consider the preferences of a child when making determinations about custody.

Judges aspire to meet children’s needs

Parents sometimes worry that their children could end up forced to testify, which could cause significant emotional stress. They imagine a harsh questioning process where both lawyers press the child on uncomfortable matters in open court. However, judges typically do their best to minimize how much pressure the children face during custody proceedings. Younger children and those with social or emotional delays may not have any involvement in the process for their protection.

If the child does need to communicate their preferences, the judge usually questions them in their chambers or private office. That way, the child feels comfortable speaking openly and honestly. Whether to allow either of the parents or their lawyers to attend that questioning is at the discretion of the judge. Occasionally, children do speak about their wishes in open court, but such scenarios are uncommon.

Judges typically ask questions about the dynamics in the family and the preferences of the child. They may ask for the reasoning behind a child’s preferences as well. The information that a child communicates to a judge during that interview can influence not just how the judge divides custody but also how much weight the judge gives the child’s wishes. The level of maturity may influence how much weight the judge gives their statement.

Parents worried about how stressful custody proceedings might be for their children may have more incentive to cooperate with one another for the benefit of the children instead of arguing over custody. Either way, understanding Pennsylvania’s approach to litigating custody matters may help people preparing for a divorce to set their expectations accordingly and to make more informed decisions as their situations evolve.

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