Kids Should Have a Voice in Custody Decisions, Advocates Say

Under New Jersey state law, judges in family court must use a child's best interest as their main guiding factor when they rule on matters of child custody. However, determining where a child's best interests lie is no simple matter. Children's rights advocates in New Jersey are currently pushing to give kids a better opportunity to weigh in on the family court decisions that will affect them.

Some Judges Reluctant to Allow Children in Court

While judges in family court are permitted to consider the custody preferences of children who are mature enough to form an intelligent opinion about who they want to live with, this is just one of many factors that judges must weigh when making child-custody decisions, and it is often overlooked.

Some judges may be reluctant to have children present during custody hearings because they want to avoid causing children to miss school. In other cases, a judge may have concerns that the emotional consequences for the child could outweigh any potential benefit of allowing him or her to be present in court.

Recommendations From Child Rights Group

The children's rights group Advocates for Children of New Jersey, or ACNJ, made the following recommendations to increase children's ability to participate in decisions about termination of parental rights and other child custody issues:

  • Schedule family court dates during non-school hours
  • Allow children to appear in court via teleconferencing
  • Permit children to submit statements by letter or recording
  • Routinely ask children if they would like to appear in court
  • Train judges, lawyers and court staff on how to involve children effectively

If you are involved in a child-custody dispute or are at risk of having your parental rights terminated, consult with a lawyer about the situation. A qualified family law attorney will help you understand the law and can be a powerful advocate for your rights as a parent.