In most child custody cases, a judge rules based upon what he or she finds to be in the best interests of the child(ren) involved. In making that decision, the court will consider all available and relevant evidence. In some situations, that could include the testimony of the child(ren), should they testify.
In North Carolina, a child can testify at no specific age. If the child(ren) involved in the case wish to testify, a judge will assess each child’s ability to take the witness stand on a case by case basis. Per the North Carolina Judicial Branch, “a judge must determine that the child understands the importance of telling the truth and that the child has reached the “age of discretion,” meaning that he or she has sufficient maturity and good judgment.”
Unless agreed on by the parties, the child(ren) will testify like any other witness and the court will allow the attorneys representing both parties to question the child(ren). However, for many children, a courtroom can seem scary and overwhelming. In cases where the child is afraid to take to the witness stand, there are alternative methods that can be used to obtain his or her testimony.
A judge has the option to interview a child in his or her chambers outside the courtroom if both parties agree. Both parties are typically left out of an in-chambers interview so that the child(ren) can speak freely. The attorneys representing each party may attend. Regardless of whether or not the parties and/or attorneys attend, there is no recording of the testimony without bringing in a court reporter.
Another option for the judge would be to appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). As covered in our two-part series, A Child’s Voice, GALs serve as the voice of the child(ren) involved in a custody case and advocate for the best interests of the child(ren).
Child custody proceedings are often very delicate situations, so it is important to have an experienced family law attorney in your corner, especially when it comes to children in the courtroom. Contact us today if you or someone you know has questions on these matters.