There is no doubt that divorces involving disputes over child custody can be emotionally difficult for both the parents and the children. In an effort to ensure that the voices of children are heard when their parents divorce, California Family Code Section 3042 states that children who are at least 14 years old have the right to address the family law court, and that the court can choose to hear from younger children as well.
While the right to be heard is clear, a pair of attorneys writing in the ABA Journal – both of whom testified as children in their parents’ divorces – have strong reservations about the impact of such testimony on kids. In their article, they examine the positives of teen testimony, the downsides of teen courthouse visits and how judges and lawyers can be helpful in these cases.
A bitter divorce
Lisa Strohman is today a clinical psychologist and attorney, but her start in life was “as a child involved in a bitter divorce that would last my entire childhood.”
She writes that one of her biggest concerns is that apart from their parents’ divorce, young teens are typically dealing with puberty, which she describes as “pure chaos emotionally and intellectually.”
She writes that when “a hormonal, emotional, frustrated kid” is included in legal proceedings determining both the dissolution and reformation of their family, the results “will be unpredictable at best.”
Awash in emotions
Family law attorney Jude Egan remembers going into a judge’s chambers during his parents’ divorce when he was a young teen, “awash in emotions” and trying to control his “nervous energy and worry.”
Today, he tells clients and courts that he generally opposes bringing children into the legal process of divorce, but acknowledges that “there are simply times when the facts, as seen by the parties, are so at odds that the only thing to do is bring the children in.”
In an upcoming post, we’ll follow up with Strohman and Egan and have more about children testifying in their parents’ divorce.