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Will your child get to speak in court about custody preferences?

Custody proceedings are typically nervous affairs for the parents involved. After all, they are fighting for the relationship they have with their children. Of course, custody hearings are also stressful for the children involved, as the living circumstances they will have in the future are determined at such hearings. That anxiety can be even more intense when the child has to testify as to their preferences for custody.

Parents may want their children to have a say in the final outcome of the custody proceedings, but California is relatively strict about how they handle such requests. In fact, since 2011, most of the time the children have to be at least 14 years old, which is old enough to seek emancipation, to have a direct say in court regarding the custody proceedings.

Why don't young children have the right to testify about preferences?

There are many people, including children's rights activist, who want California to change this particular family law policy. Children younger than 14 may already have strong ideas about what living circumstances would be best for them.

However, there are some valid reasons why California family courts want to wait until children are at least 14 for them to have input into custody proceedings. Younger children may not think about more complex issues related to custody, such as the schools they can attend or the parents ability to provide a safe and stable environment. Frequent bribery with candy and toys on the part of one parent could be enough to sway a younger child into testifying that they would prefer to live with that parent.

Additionally, speaking up in court often carries a heavy psychological burden. The child may worry intensely that choosing one parent over the other will damage their relationship with the parent they don't select. Being present in court to testify could also mean witnessing parents or other people testifying. That could result in a child hearing things about a parent that they did not need to hear.

Ideally, you and your spouse can work things out together

Testifying in court is stressful for you, and it will be stressful for your child or teenager as well. It is almost universally a better solution for parents to reach their own terms for custody outside of the court.

If there is any hope that you can agree to terms with your ex, you should attempt to. Mediation can often help you find terms if you can't set them alone. Not only will doing so save you money, but it will also reduce the emotional burden on your children during the divorce. Finally, working together to set terms for custody can help you and your ex start building a healthy co-parenting relationship, instead of a contentious relationship.

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