By: Amanda Vann, Esq.
One of the most common questions I am asked when addressing custody is whether or not a child will have the ability to express their wishes to the judge during the process. By the time a custody case is being filed in court, it is apparent that the parents are not in agreement regarding custody or a visitation schedule. The parents are asking for a judge to create an order deciding where the child should live and how often the child will see each of his or her parents, and many factors go into the judge’s decision.
Keep reading to learn more about how a child’s preference can affect child custody decisions in the state of Maryland.
Making Decisions in the Child’s Best Interests
In Maryland, the law requires a judge to make a determination regarding child custody based upon the Best Interest of the Child Standard. Generally, this means not what each parent wants but what the judge thinks would be in the best interest of the child. There are several factors that a judge will consider when making this decision, including the child’s preference. Maryland is considered a more liberal state because of the willingness of the judiciary to listen to the voice of the child.
Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With?
Often clients tell me they heard a child can decide and tell a judge who they want to live with when they reach age 12 (or some other age). However, Maryland has not established a minimum age for when the child can be heard. This means that a judge can listen to a child as young as 7 to a child of older age. Each family is different and each child is different and the child’s maturity and the facts of each case can determine the weight the child’s wants will have upon the judge.
You should also remember that just because the judge hears what preference your child has, this does not guarantee that the judge will make his or her decision based upon your child’s wants. While your child’s preference is one factor for the judge to consider, the judge’s ultimate decision must be based upon what is in the child’s best interest, which isn’t always what the child wants. For example, a child may express their wishes to live with their dad because at dad’s house, they aren’t required to do homework or have any chores, they are allowed endless TV or video game time, and they generally have a much more free spirited time. Whereas at mom’s house, the child has to do chores, TV and video game time is limited, and they are disciplined differently. Just because a child chooses one home over the other does not mean that the judge will find that the child’s preference is in their best interest.
Will My Child Testify in Court?
Just because a judge will hear the child’s preference, this does not mean that children are able to come into the courtroom, be sworn in, and sit at the witness stand to testify in front of a judge. There are other procedures and professionals that need to be brought into the case and may even need to be appointed by the court before a child’s preference is heard by a judge. It is those professionals and not necessarily the child that will actually be sworn in at court and testify in the actual courtroom in front of the judge. Only on very rare occasions and circumstances will a judge actually have a conversation or even listen to a child directly, and even then it typically doesn’t occur from the child being on the witness stand. Remember that when dealing with divorce or custody, a courtroom is a proper place for adults and children should not be participants unless on a rare occasion a judge actually wants the child to be present.
Need Advice on a Child Custody Case? We’re Here to Help
I strongly encourage you to seek legal advice on how your child’s voice can be heard during a custody dispute. If you want your child’s preference to be considered by a judge, make sure you communicate that to your attorney early on in the process so that your attorney can educate you on the different steps that need to be taken in your particular case to ensure your child’s desires are conveyed to the judge.
We know how complex and sensitive matters involving divorce and children can be, and we want to make sure your children’s best interests are well taken care of as they begin a new way of life. If you need assistance resolving your child custody matter in court or through alternative means of resolution, you can contact attorney Amanda Vann at 301-563-6685 or [email protected].
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