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New push to involve children in child custody decisions

A child custody battle can be traumatic for both parents and children. Things can come out against both parents and twisted to make that parent look unfit to have custody of a child. Parents can also be falsely accused of serious incidents that would preclude them from gaining custody. It is Georgia family court judges' responsibility, however, to sort through all this evidence and decide which parent should have custody based on the best interests of the child. In all this, however, do judges consider what the child wants?

Family law varies by state, but some states are supposed to include children over ten in the custody proceedings. The court is supposed to consider a child's opinions when it makes its final decision.

The New Jersey Star Ledger reports that children's advocates are pushing courts to respect these involvement laws. According to some advocates, allowing a child to testify in his or her own child custody proceeding forces the court to focus on the actual subject of the case-the child. Children can also provide valuable evidence of what goes on in the home and which parent might be the better custodial parent. Finally, it is important that children have some control and some say in their lives, claim advocates.

There is some pushback, however, from family court judges. They don't want children to miss school. Judges are also concerned that if they rule against a child's custody opinion, he or she will become upset or angry.

A University of Pennsylvania graduate social work student, however, told the Star Ledger of her disappointment and anger with the family court system. When she was 13, she tried to tell a judge that she didn't want her mother to regain custody of her. She wrote him a letter, explaining that she had failed two years of school because she had to care for her younger siblings. She was constantly hungry and abused.

Despite the letter, the judge never met with the student and left her outside the courtroom while he decided it was in her best interest to go through therapy with her mother. While the therapy never worked and the mother never regained custody over the student, the student still is upset that she had no input in her custody hearing.

Source: New Jersey Star Ledger, "Children's advocates push for more kids to be involved with family court proceedings," Susan Livio, 06 July 2011

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William C. Gentry, Attorney at Law

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