One of the factors for consideration in determining what is in the best interests of the child for a custody award is the preference of the child. It is common for the opinion of the child to be sought in the course of a custody evaluation. There is also the possibility that a child will appear in court to offer testimony. There are rules specific to the testimony of children in Pennsylvania. The policy of the Commonwealth is to promote procedures to protect children witnesses. These procedures are outlined in 42 Pa C.S.A. 5981 – 5988. For the purposes of the provisions in these sections, child is defined as an individual under sixteen (16) years of age. Per Section 5984.1, the court may direct that a child’s testimony be recorded for subsequent presentation in court so long as the method accurately captures all information presented during such testimony.
Similar to the allowance for recorded testimony, Section 5985 allows for the child to testify in a room other than the courtroom with the testimony being transmitted by contemporaneous alternative method. For example, the court may interview the child in chambers as opposed to on the stand in the open courtroom. There should still be a transcript of what was said in chambers. The purpose of this would be to make the experience less intimidating for the child. The court should determine if the child would be subject to serious emotional distress if they had to testify in an open forum and/or before the defendant. It is good practice to contact your Judge prior to any hearing to see if they are interested in speaking directly to the children or if they will permit the children to testify if you would like them to.