Children Testifying In Family Court
By Orlando Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Dedicated to Family Law Only, Since 2005
Which Children Can Testify, How and When
In Florida, which children can testify about family law matters during traditional family law cases, injunctions or dependency hearings, plus how and when they can do it, varies greatly from case to case. Since I opened AAA Family Law in 2013, I have received countless questions about this subject. However, as with many other legal questions, there are no simple answers.
Florida does not provide a threshold age at which children can have their voices heard in family law matters. Instead, the pertinent statute allows a child’s perspective to be taken into account if the child is “of sufficient age and maturity”, without listing an actual age. Therefore, whether a child can testify and when and how is largely at the discretion of the family court.
A family law attorney who wants to have a client's child speak to the judge or testify in family court must fist file a motion requesting it. At a separate hearing, the family law judge will rule whether the child will be heard. If so, the judge will then specify in a written order how this will take place.
Traditional Family Law Cases
In traditional family law cases (such as divorce and paternity) minors are not allowed to testify in family court and be subjected to direct and cross-examination questions. Rather, if necessary, the child will speak privately to the judge in his or her chambers, while the attorneys and parents remain in the courtroom. However, litigants have a due process right to have this conversation transcribed by a court reporter.
Injunction hearings present different considerations. The respondent who is subjected to a potentially permanent injunction faces a possible restriction upon his or her liberty and movement. Thus, a family court judges in an injunction hearing will be much more open to subjecting minors to cross-examination by opposing attorneys. Still, the judge often takes steps to minimize the psychological trauma to the child such as having him or her testify via Skype instead of in the courtroom itself.
Florida DCF Dependency Hearings
In DCF dependency hearings, children are frequently heard from in the courtroom. The dependency judge will often ask children questions directly from the bench. Just as with injunction hearings, children can be questioned by attorneys representing the Department of Children and Families, their own attorneys, as well as the parent’s attorneys. However, because they are children, dependency judges will not hesitate to reign in attorneys who ask inappropriate or combative questions. Attorneys know that they have a “short leash” when asking children questions in court.
How We Can Be Of Service
If you have any questions about your child testifying in family court or any other family law issue, feel free to call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 and schedule an initial consultation. At the consultation I will listen to your explanation of the issues that you are confronting. Then I will answer your questions and, if legal action is required, I will outline a plan of action to achieve your objectives.
Finally, I will provide you with the amount of the family lawyer attorney fees required to put that plan into action. You will know these fees before signing any contracts or making any payments. And they will be for a fixed amount, not an hourly rate whose total is unpredictable.
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