There are many factors that are considered when there is a child custody case in California. The best interests of the child are paramount and various considerations toward that end will be part of the process. In many cases, the parents will make their argument to have custody, visitation rights will be determined and the child has little say in the matter. However, in some instances, the child will be granted the right to express his or her preferences regarding custody. Understanding what the law says about the child's capacity to be heard is an important part of a case.
The child's age and maturity will be critical factors in deciding whether their preferences should be given weight. If the child is deemed to be sufficiently mature and able to understand the consequences of the case, then the court will take the child's preferences into account. When a child is examined as a witness in the case, the court will have strict control over how it is done to serve the child's best interests. A child who is at least 14-years-old who wants to address the court about the case can do so except in cases where the court decides it will not be in the child's best interests. The court will give its reasons if it does not allow the child to speak.
Children under 14 will not automatically be prevented from testifying, but it will also be based on the child's best interests as to whether it will be allowed. If a child is not allowed to be called as a witness, the court can use other ways to get the child's input and information about preferences. An evaluator, investigator, counsel or a mediator will give recommendations to help the court decide if the child should be allowed to express preferences. The child will not be required to give input.
Although a child is at the center of a child custody case, they might be in the background as the parents seek custody and hash out visitation. But when the child is competent and mature enough to provide an opinion as to what he or she prefers, the court can allow this based on the law. For parents who are debating child custody, the child can be a valuable voice in the case.