At what age should the child's custody preference matter?

Right now, a child in California has to be at least 14 years old before he or she can express an opinion in court about which parent should have primary custody.

Lawmakers are saying that is far too long to have to wait, and a new bill filed by State Senator Connie Leyva seeks to lower that age to 10.

The bill has some significant support behind it. Both the California Protective Parents Association and the Center for Judicial Excellence are backing it.

Advocates say that the bill is an important child safety measure because it can help prevent children from being dragged away from a safe parent and placed with an abusive one. They point out that no one is more privy to what is actually happening than the child in the center of any abusive activity, whether those allegations come before the court or not.

Detractors, however, worry that children of that age could be harmed by being tossed into the middle of their parents' drama and that testifying could force a child to feel tremendous guilt over having to choose one parent over the other. The California Psychological Association is one group opposed to the measure.

The new law would have some safety measure built into it to help prevent children from being manipulated into testifying against another parent or thrown unwillingly into the middle of the adults' conflict:

-- The court would have to make a determination that the child is testifying of his or her own volition.

-- The child would have to be provided an age-appropriate form that explains the process of addressing the court, how it should only be done if he or she voluntarily wants to do so, and reasons why he or she might or might not want to address the court.

-- The child would be given alternative means of giving the court input regarding his or her preferences if he or she doesn't want to testify.

It's important to note that some of the detractors feel that the law is putting a big burden on small heads, but the court is still ultimately in charge of custody decisions -- not the child. The child's opinion is just one of many factors the court will ultimately consider before deciding custody.

For more information on child custody issues, consider seeking out the services of an attorney.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "California lawmakers to weigh whether younger children should be allowed to testify in custody cases," Jazmine Ulloa, Jan. 24, 2017

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