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Our Stockton Child Custody Lawyers Explain the Weight of a Child’s Preference

When parents are unable to come to an agreement on child custody matters, the judge will decide for them. When making decisions about custody and visitation, the court will, when appropriate, consider the child’s preferences. While consulting with your Central Valley and Stockton child custody lawyers is the best way to understand your child’s potential role in determining custody in your particular case, the following may help answer your general questions about how a judge in California might consider the issue of child preference in contested custody matters. 

At What Age is a Child’s Preference Taken Into Consideration in a California Child Custody Case?

There is no minimum age that a child must reach in order to have his or heard opinion heard in a child custody case. The judge will consider whether the child is of sufficient age and ability to express an intelligent opinion regarding where they will live and how visitation will be managed. 

Will My Child Have to Testify in a Public Court Setting?

 A judge will never force your child to testify in court if he or she doesn’t wish to do so. A child who is 14 years old or older, however, will be given the opportunity to testify in court if that is what they want. If younger than 14, the court will weigh whether or not testifying in court about custodial preference is appropriate, looking at factors such as the child’s maturity and ability to adequately express their thoughts. 

If it is determined that the child should weigh in on custody matters but it is not in their best interest to testify in court, the court will come up with another way to make sure their opinion is heard and considered. Alternative methods courts employ include appointing someone — an evaluator, mediator, or guardian ad litem, for example — to speak with the child and then testify about the child’s preference on their behalf, or having the child testify in chambers without the parents present. If the child testifies in chambers, however, unless the parents agree that the judge can speak with the child alone, a court reporter and each side’s child custody attorney will be present. 

Even when a child does testify in court, the judge will be sensitive to the situation and will protect them from embarrassment or harassment, if necessary, by limiting the questions that the attorneys are allowed to ask. 

How Much Weight Will the Judge Give My Child’s Preferences? 

The court has discretion in deciding how much weight to give the child’s custody and visitation preferences. Generally speaking, the opinion of an older child will carry more weight with the court, but a judge will always consider options through the lens of what is deemed to be in the best interests of the child, regardless of the child’s age. 

Contact Our Central Valley and Stockton Child Custody Lawyers Today

To set up a consultation with one of the Central Valley and Stockton child custody lawyers at McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau, LLP, please reach out to us online.

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