If you are a divorced or divorcing co-parent sharing child custody, you may be overjoyed to hear your child say “I want to come and live with you.” Many parents dislike having to share custody, because it means they see their children less than full-time and because they need to remain in contact with a person that they went through the expense and trouble of divorcing.
Courts in Illinois attempt to make child custody rulings in the best interests of the child, and this often means shared custody. And if your child says those magic words to you, it may be tempting to ask them to say the same thing in court. Before you ask your child to testify, however, you need to understand how difficult and potentially traumatizing the experience could be for them.
Courts sometimes allow testimony from children in custody proceedings, but usually not young kids. In general, a teenager’s preferences and requests will be given more weight than those of a younger child.
Children often have a preference for one parent over the other, but it doesn’t always stay that way. If your child has expressed a desire to live with you full-time, you need to be very careful about what you do with this information. If you petition for a change in custody, you should not ask your child to testify in court (or in another official capacity) unless their testimony is absolutely necessary.
In most cases, it is unfair and potentially damaging to ask a child to testify because it may feel (to them) like you are asking them to betray their other parent. Even if your child does want to live with you, they probably don’t want to hurt their other parent’s feelings.
If your child is asked to testify and does so, the effects may not be immediately noticeable, but it could cause long-term damage. For the most part, picking sides is not something children should ever have to do in divorce.
Before you ask your child to testify in child custody proceedings, please discuss it with your family law attorney. If you jointly decide that the testimony is necessary (and will be allowed in court), you should then proceed as delicately as possible.
Source: The Huffington Post, “Divorce Confidential: Child Testimony in Divorce Proceedings,” Caroline Choi, Jan. 29, 2015