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Can children testify in a child custody dispute?

When divorcing parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement, they may be forced to have the court issue a custody decision. The court will apply the best interest of the child standard, informed by many factors. Broadly speaking, a court will want a child to receive a home environment that is financially stable, emotionally nurturing, and which poses minimal disruption to the care and environment that the child has become used to.

Since many children grow up in dual-income households, old stereotypes about child custody no longer hold sway. However, if one parent has a work schedule that requires erratic hours or excessive travel, he or she may not be viewed as providing the same level of home stability as the other parent.

In evaluating opposing child custody proposals, a court might also hear testimony from expert witnesses, such as child psychologists. Where possible, a court often likes to hear the opinions and preferences of the children, appropriately weighing their testimony according to their age.

Of course, very young children might not be able to offer testimony, leaving the court to rely on the evaluations performed by the psychologists. One court has found a creative solution to this hurdle, allowing a facility dog to rest at the feet of small children who have taken the stand to testify.

Our Michigan law firm cautions against jumping to conclusions about child custody based on any single factor. Indeed, many variables inform the best interest of the child standard, and it is up to the court to determine how best to weigh each factor. In addition, there are creative solutions available, such as shared legal custody but only one spouse having physical custody.

Source: CBS News, “Meet the dog that comforts children who testify in court,” Jan. 5, 2017

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