Australian Family Law Courts that decide parenting disputes have many ways to learn what children want without making them testify in court.
Nobody wants to put their children through the stress of testifying in court. On the other hand, if your child wants to live with you rather than the other parent, you will want the court to know that. Judges usually give greater weight to the preferences of older children, since children who are more mature are better able to decide where they want to live.
How can the judge learn what your children want? Fortunately, judges discourage parents from having their children testify. Giving testimony can be an unsettling experience for an adult, and it is particularly frightening for children. Judges want to shelter children from the potential trauma of being questioned in formal court proceedings.
When parenting issues are in dispute, the court will order a family consultant to prepare a family report. The consultant will probably interview your children, particularly if they are old enough to communicate effectively.
The consultant will convey the children’s views to the court in the family report. The consultant will also include his or her impressions of the children and of the parents.
Since the consultant will look for evidence that your child has been “coached,” you should not tell the child what to say. Just reassure your child that he or she should be honest and open with the family consultant and that nothing bad will happen, no matter how the child answers the consultant’s questions.
One way to tell the judge what your children are thinking is to put their statements into your affidavit. You might say “Johnny told me that he doesn’t like staying with his father because he has no friends in his father’s neighborhood and he spends too much time alone.” It is helpful to include as much detail as possible in the form of direct quotes from the children.
You can also describe things that you have observed about your children’s behaviour. For example, “When Johnny comes home from visiting his father, he is quiet and reserved. It takes him a day or two to come out of his shell. He is a smiling and playful child most of the week, but his behaviour is much different after he has been with his father.”
Your lawyer can help you prepare effective affidavits.
School and medical records often have information that reveals how children feel about their parents. Your lawyer can subpoena those records and may want to offer them as evidence in court.
An independent children’s advocate is a lawyer who represents your child’s best interests. If the court appoints one, the advocate must tell the court what the advocate believes would be best for the child, even if it is not what the child wants. To do that, however, the advocate will usually relate the child’s opinions to the court, and will then explain why the advocate agrees or disagrees with those opinions.