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When Does a New Jersey Judge Listen to Children in a Custody Case?

smiling child

The overarching determination of what custody plan is in the best interest of the child governs child custody schedules  in New Jersey.  In order to make that decision, a judge may decide to conduct an in camera interview with the child to learn what the child wants.  However, these interviews are rare and it frequently is the appointed guardian ad litem who speaks on behalf of the child.

Under New Jersey law, either parent may request that the judge speak with the child to discuss what the specific desires of the child are.  These requests are made before a custody trial is held.  Under certain circumstances, a judge can order an interview even when neither parent requests one.  However, a judge may decide not to conduct an interview if he believes that the process of speaking with the child would be harmful to the emotional state of the child.  If the judge does decide that the interview is not in the best interest of the child, he will place his reasons for declining to interview the child on the record.

The purpose behind an in camera interview between the judge and the child is to create an environment where the child feels comfortable expressing what he thinks without being made to feel that he is choosing sides between his parents in the courtroom.  The judge typically will release a record of the interview with the child so that everyone is aware of all evidence upon which the judge may have relied in making his custody decision.  Counsel may submit questions that the judge will ask the child during the interview.  If the judge decides not to ask certain questions, he will place his reasons on the record.  Unless the judge otherwise authorizes its release, the parents and counsel are not permitted to share the transcript of the interview with the children or other third parties.

As divorce and custody law has evolved, the input from the children involved in the case has become a greater factor in making the ultimate determination about what type of custody arrangement will be put into place.  The preference of the child now plays an important role in the judge’s ultimate decision.  In New Jersey, a guardian may be appointed to talk to the children and learn about their preferences.  The guardian plays a different role, depending on the age of the child.  When the child is younger than 14 years old, the guardian must balance the asserted desires of the child against what the guardian deems to be in the best interest of the child.  When the child is 14 years of age or older, the guardian must communicate the wants of the child.  However, the guardian may still report whether he believes one of the parents is unduly influencing the child and whether the wants of the child may not be in his best interest.

At the beginning of the custody action, the judge deems each parent as equally deserving of getting custody of the children.  Throughout the custody case, the evidence that is presented will persuade the judge towards the ultimate determination.  The input of the child, whether through the guardian or direct conversations with the judge, will influence the final custody arrangement.

The Micklin Law Group, LLC Represents the Interests of Parents in Custody Disputes

Going through the process of determining a custody plan for children can be emotionally trying for all parties involved, including the children.  The role of the judge is to decide what is in the best interest of the child and whether that determination requires speaking directly with the child.  Regardless of whether the judge makes the choice to go forward with an interview, the dedicated and experienced New Jersey divorce attorneys at The Micklin Law Group, LLC are committed to fighting for the rights of our clients.  To schedule a case evaluation, please call The Micklin Law Group, LLC at (973) 562-0100.

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