Working out child custody agreements can be the most frustrating and agonizing of divorce’s painful aspects. Sometimes, getting to the correct agreement even requires input from the child or children, which technically can mean one party or the other can call a child to testify in court.
Before resorting to that option, however, several alternatives are tried in child custody cases to avoid having the child give formal testimony in a courtroom.
If input from your child would be helpful to your child custody case, or if the opposing party feels it would be helpful, here is what the courts of Minnesota will try first.
The Courts Always Prioritize the Child’s Welfare
Child custody cases can be brutal, especially if the children are actively involved. Minnesota courts recognize that and will do all they can to avoid formal testimony. To that end, Minnesota applies the Best Interest Statute, which emphasizes preserving a child’s future relationship with both parents.
The Best Interest Statute maintains that children are largely incapable of being impartial in a custody dispute because of parental pressures. Additionally, children do not understand how their testimony might affect themselves or either parent.
Nonetheless, a child’s testimony could be critical to decisions a judge will render pertaining to custody, custody schedules, financial decisions, and visitation rights. Because of that, the state of Minnesota has implemented a few different options.
A Judge Interviews the Child
First and foremost, a judge will usually interview a child, apart from the courtroom and according to Minnesota custody interview legal processes. The interview aims to build a relationship of trust with the child and to figure out what the child prefers and why in terms of a custody agreement.
The court might seek analysis, advice, and counsel from professionals if the custody case is particularly contentious. These personnel can be mental health professionals, social workers, child welfare specialists, or any other professional a judge deems necessary to render a fair decision.
Their findings are submitted in writing and filed with the court. In most cases, the professional themselves does not testify in court.
Guardian ad Litem
Another option is to employ the services of a disinterested third party. The third-party selected is usually a Guardian ad Litem. The purpose of a Guardian ad Litem is to represent the child’s best interest in court proceedings. The Guardian ad Litem interviews and works with the child to establish what the child prefers and what works best for the child’s welfare.
A Guardian ad Litem does not make any binding rulings or findings but rather documents the child’s circumstances and recommends what they feel is in the child’s best interest. The courts may require the Guardian Ad Litem to testify but even if that is not necessary, the court will usually place a lot of weight behind their conclusions.
The Child’s Therapist
In some child custody cases, the court will require communication between the child’s therapist and the child. Often, the therapist can provide insight no one else possesses regarding the child’s mindset. Additionally, their notes, correspondence, and in some cases, formal reports can establish contributing factors the court will use to make a decision. In most cases, the report from a child’s therapist will suffice. In some cases, the therapist might be called to testify, depending on the report and mitigating factors in the custody case.
Parenting Time Evaluator
The court might employ formal, professional evaluators that meet with the child or children in neutral settings and document what they observe. This alternative is the least expensive option, but there are rules that apply to what type of evaluator is used and what they can provide the court in formal testimony. In most custody hearings, only a full-time evaluator, certified by the state, will testify in a custody case.
Throughout this, the judge will appeal to all involved parties to reach a mutual agreement to avoid requiring the child or children to testify. If all else fails, however, a child could be requested to give testimony in a custody dispute, but it would be an absolute last resort.
Talk to a Qualified Custody Attorney Today
Issues related to divorce and child custody are never easy. First, your best interests must be represented. To do that, contact CJB Law today to review your case and custody options.