Am I, as an 11-year-old, allowed to go to court in a situation where my parents are divorced to see if I can get my dad to have full custody of me even though my mom doesn’t abuse me?
What actually happens when a child wants to be heard on the subject of his/her desires regarding the child custody award?
Great questions. I can’t speak for all jurisdictions, but I can tell you 1) what the law is for the state of Utah; and 2) what (in my experience) actually happens when a child wants to be heard on the subject of his/her desires regarding the child custody award.
The law for the state of Utah. A child can testify as to the child’s preferences regarding the child custody award, if the court allows the child to testify:
30-3-10(5). Custody of a child — Custody factors.
(a) A child may not be required by either party to testify unless the trier of fact determines that extenuating circumstances exist that would necessitate the testimony of the child be heard and there is no other reasonable method to present the child’s testimony.
(i) The court may inquire of the child’s and take into consideration the child’s desires regarding future custody or parent-time schedules, but the expressed desires are not controlling and the court may determine the child’s custody or parent-time otherwise.
(ii) The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor.
(i) If an interview with a child is conducted by the court pursuant to Subsection (5)(b), the interview shall be conducted by the judge in camera.
(ii) The prior consent of the parties may be obtained but is not necessary if the court finds that an interview with a child is the only method to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody.
So what do the words of § 30-3-10 mean? How does § 30-3-10 work (or how should it work)? Get ready to be upset.
§ 30-3-10 provides that a child can testify, but only under circumstances that most Utah courts construe so restrictively as to make it all but impossible for a child to testify. How?
Most Utah courts will say (I know because I am one of the few attorneys who thinks children who are smart enough and emotionally tough enough to testify intelligibly should be heard on the subject of the child custody award) that 1) the “extenuating circumstances that would necessitate the testimony of the child be heard” do not exist (and will, if the court has anything to say about it, essentially never exist under any circumstances); and 2) there is always another “reasonable method” to present the child’s testimony without actually presenting the child’s testimony directly from the child’s mouth to the judge’s ear. Generally, courts in Utah will bend over backward to avoid hearing from the child directly. And the “other reasonable method” means ensuring the questions posed to the child on the subject of child custody are not recorded, that the child’s purported answers are not recorded, that the child’s testimony is filtered through a third party, such as a guardian ad litem and/or a custody evaluator.
If a court in Utah has ever found “that an interview with a child is the only method to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody,” I am not aware of such a case. What is so frustrating to me is why would such a law exist? Why isn’t the law just the opposite, i.e., “Unless the evidence shows that the judge interviewing the child will not ascertain or at least help the court to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody, the court shall interview the child to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody.”
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277