Children Testifying In Family Court Divorce, Injunction Hearings and DCF Cases
By Orlando Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Which Children Can Testify, At What Age and When
In Florida there is much variation from case to case regarding: (1) which children can testify about family law issues during traditional family law cases, injunctions or dependency hearings, and (2) how and when they can testify. I have received countless questions about this subject, such as: "At what age can a child testify in family court?" 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 their perspective to be taken into account if the child is “of sufficient age and maturity”, without listing an actual age. Therefore, whether a they can testify and when and how is largely at the discretion of the family court judge.
An attorney who wants to have a client's child speak to the judge or testify in family court must first file a motion requesting it. At a separate hearing, the family court judge will rule whether the he or she will be heard. If so, the judge will then specify in a written order how this will take place.
Where and How Minors Testify In Family Law Situations
(1) Divorce and Paternity Cases in Family Court
In divorce and paternity cases 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.
(2) Injunction Hearings
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.
(3) Florida DCF Dependency Hearings
In Department of Children and Families (DCF) dependency hearings, children are frequently testify in the courtroom. The dependency judge will often ask them 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 and I will outline a plan of action to achieve your objectives.
Finally, I will provide you with the amount of the 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.
For more information about court costs and attorney retention fees, including the range of their amounts for each type of family law case, please read Family Lawyer Retainer Fees.
For More Information About How Family Law Deals With Children, Please Read These Pages
By Orlando Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias, Dedicated to Family Law Only, Since 2011