Sometimes when you are going through a custody battle your children may have to testify. Oftentimes, depending on their age, it will be done in chambers with the Judge and attorneys present but not the parents. There is always the possibility, however, it may be done in open court which is much more intimidating for the child. Usually, it is the very last testimony in a case as throughout the trial, the attorneys and the Judge may still be trying to settle the case. No judge wants to have to make a child testify but if one of the parents wants the child to testify, the judge has no choice. Rather than have your child miss an entire day of school or sit at the courthouse all day, you may want to see if you can have the child can be brought to court by a third party if needed.
One of the factors in a custody case in Pennsylvania is “the well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgement.” This certainly does not mean that just because your child testifies that they would rather live in your home the majority of the time that you will automatically get custody. There are numerous other factors in custody that the Court also must weigh. In addition, the judge is looking for motives as to why the child says that if it even comes out as all.
Parental alienation is real and turning a child away from the other parent or unduly influencing the child is something that will play against a parent in a custody case. If your child does not testify, there are other ways that the judge may be able to determine the well-reasoned preference of the child. Most cases prior to trial will have a custody evaluation done either through the court depending on the county or through a private evaluation. This process will involve interviews with the child and this information will be conveyed in the report. When you have a court date and your child may be faced with having to testify, it may be best to not mention it to the child. Oftentimes, it ends up not be necessary and there is no reason to worry the child and when it does happen it is better to explain it shortly beforehand at the courthouse then to appear as if you may have influenced the testimony. Also, after they testify it is a good idea not to punish your child or interrogate your child as to what was asked and what was said. The more you focus on, the more traumatic you will make it for your child.