29 Mar Where Is Your Child’s Voice in the Legal Process?
Divorce or separation is a difficult time for children, and negative experiences can have long-term effects on their social and emotional development. Many parents ask when and if their child(ren) will be able to make their voice heard in court with regards to the final parenting schedule. Here is a breakdown of a child’s involvement in the process.
Not in Court
Due to the highly stressful nature of family court, it is preferred for children to have as little involvement as possible. This includes limited interactions with either parent’s attorney, as well as little or no attendance in the actual courtroom. It is preferred for parenting time schedules to be created by the parents without input from the judge.
Unfortunately, there are situations in which parents cannot come to an agreement on a parenting time schedule. In an effort to allow the parties to work together, a judge may appoint a mediator to resolve the issue. Both parents will then meet with the mediator in a neutral location to assess any disagreements.
In some instances, the mediator will meet with the child(ren), provided they are of a mature age and that the mediator believes the child’s input would assist in reaching a resolution. The mediator may choose to meet alone with the child(ren) in order to allow the child the opportunity to speak freely.
If there are significant issues blocking the process, the mediator may determine that the matter is inappropriate for mediation and end the session.
If a parenting time schedule or other issues involving the child have still not been agreed upon or in situations in which the mediator has determined that the case is inappropriate for mediation, the judge can choose to appoint a Child Representative or a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to serve as the legal representative for the child. The Child Representative or GAL’s role is to determine what is in the best interest of the child. They may analyze the child’s living conditions; asses how the child interacts with the family through home visits; or speak to the child’s teachers or counselors. Child representatives act in the minor’s best interest. Their primary goal is to address significant issues in the case by further investigating allegations made by the litigants and determining the best possible solutions to resolve the issues.
Remember that it is always preferred for children to have limited or no interaction with the family court. If you have further questions about children and the parenting time schedule process, please contact a family law attorney.