Courts typically do not favor having a child testify at a custody hearing. This particularly is the case when a child is young. A court may be less reluctant to permit the testimony of an older child at a hearing or divorce trial.
Despite the reservations of the court in permitting a child to testify during divorce proceedings, including in regard to custody, there are circumstances when that testimony is necessary. There are some specific steps that should be taken in order to prepare a child to testify in court.
Familiarize a Child with Location of Testimony
Many judges that permit a child to testify at a custody hearing will have the child take this step in chambers or a conference rather than in a courtroom. When preparing a child to testify, it is vital that the young person know where that testimony will occur.
There is a significant difference between testifying in a courtroom and in a less formal setting such as a judge’s office or a conference room. When possible, the child should be taken to the location where the testimony will occur so the young person can familiarize his or herself with the space.
Undertake a Testimony Rehearsal
The parent’s attorney should arrange for a testimony rehearsal for the child. In addition to this type of run-through, the parent should provide the child with a chance to rehearse the process as well.
Emotional Support for the Child
Both parents need to support the child emotionally — before, during, and after the testimony. A parent must never try to turn the child against the other parent. The process of testifying is unsettling enough for a child; that the parents must avoid commentary and conduct that makes it even more challenging for a young person.
Deposition in Lieu of Court Testimony
In some cases, rather than courtroom testimony, attorneys agree to have a child submit to a deposition. A deposition is questioning under oath in front of a court reporter, but without all of the trappings for the courthouse. In many instances, this proves to be less stressful for a child.
Divorce attorneys typically have been involved in cases that required the testimony of children. Divorcing parents must be sure to keep lines of communication open with attorneys to ensure that their children’s interests as served through the testimony process.