FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL attorneys weigh in on children and divorce with answers to the question:


Do kids belong in divorce courtrooms?


matthew-purcellMATT PURCELL

Children are the victims of divorce. They don’t ask for their family to be split up, and while their preferences are heard through mediation and occasionally even in the courtroom, they don’t get to decide who they live with. What should they be told about the divorce? What should they know? They should know from the outset that both of their parents love them and support them and that even though there will be some changes ahead those two facts will not change (even if the parents don’t believe what they are saying about each other). That is it.   Children don’t have a “right to know,” about all of the allegations and accusations being put forth in the custody dispute, especially not about the financial matters. Children have a right to be children. They didn’t ask for this. The situation will be tough enough on them without being put in the role of counselor or sounding board for their parents. The obligation of a parent going through divorce is to make sure the children have as much love and stability as possible. Period.


Jenny Bain 220 x 220 Website 386JENNY BAIN

Children are often too young to have a true understanding about the emotional and logistical intricacies surrounding divorce. This is why the less they know, the better. Parents should likely be open and honest with their children about the facts that affect them directly, but no more. In keeping with this, courts often decline to speak directly with a child unless it is absolutely necessary, which they feel is almost never. Exposing a child, even in their teens, to the courtroom and to an adversarial dynamic between their parents is a last resort. To get a child’s input, the court relies on mediators to summarize a child’s perspective. However, often times children are influenced by other factors, and they tend to desire things that aren’t in their long-term best interests. This is why court’s rarely rely solely on a child’s testimony.


neil-foresterNEIL FORESTER

I have yet to meet a judge that is a fan of having children of any age in the courtroom for any reason. We do have provisions in the Family Code that give kids of a certain age a presumptive right to testify, but even after I have argued for the court to hear that testimony, no judge has allowed it. It doesn’t really happen all that often that a child has relevant information for the court, and I completely understand where the judges are coming from. Going to court for any reason is a stressful thing for adults. When you overlay that stress with a young child potentially testifying against one (or both) of her parents, that stress can become overwhelming. It will damage the family dynamic and may permanently impair a child’s relationship with her mom or dad. Judges are people (and parents), too, and they are very sensitive to the potential damage that can be caused. Unless the information cannot be obtained in any other way (i.e. from a family friend, teacher, counselor, etc.), the court is unlikely to put a young child on the stand. The court might want to speak to the child in chambers if the information is that important, but more likely than not the court will simply not allow a child to be called as a witness at all.


Based in Folsom, California, Forester Purcell Stowell PC can be reached at or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.

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