As a child, testifying in a court of law can be intimidating and frightening. Young children, in particular, often don't fully understand the events that led up to their need to testify or how their stories will impact the case. Subsequently, judges and attorneys tend to try their best to avoid involving children in court conflicts, be it criminal court or family court. Nonetheless, in some instances, a child's testimony might be necessary to determine the outcome of a time-sharing agreement, custody dispute, or criminal conviction.
In circumstances where a child must testify in court, hiring an experienced divorce attorney is crucial. One of our experienced lawyers in Gainesville can help prepare your child to testify and assure your child that testifying will not result in any harm befalling them or a loved one. Contact a family law attorney with The Law Office of Silverman, Mack & Associates today to learn more or schedule a consultation!
Florida Laws On Child Testimony In Court
In 1995, Florida family courts adopted rule 12.407 to provide additional protection to minors by avoiding unnecessary involvement of children in family law litigation. In maintaining the right to due process, this rule does not forbid the use of a child's testimony. But, it requires a judge to determine whether a child's testimony is relevant and necessary to case issues before subjecting them to court disputes.
Specifically, the rule states: "No minor child shall be deposed or brought to a deposition, brought to court to appear as witness or to attend a hearing, or subpoenaed to appear at a hearing without prior order of the court based on good cause shown unless in an emergency situation." It's important to note that this rule does not apply to adoption proceedings.
Child's Opinion In Custody Rulings
Minors can express a preference in custody disputes. While there are minimum ages for courts to consider a child's preference in other states, Florida has no such requirement. Instead, a judge can determine if it's appropriate for a child to testify according to the following factors.
- The child's intelligence and maturity
- Whether the child seems to understand the decision they are making
- A child's experience/bias towards a particular guardian
Preparing A Child To Testify
Go Over What To Expect
Try to discuss with your child what they can expect leading up to their testimony. Emphasize that being truthful will not cause them any harm. If it's a criminal case, explain that the court system must correct outlaw behavior. If possible, try to arrange for a tour of the courtroom before the day of the testimony.
Don't Prompt The Child
When discussing the upcoming testimony, don't prompt the child to discuss particular aspects of a case. This prompting is known as "witness coaching" and can be used against you by the opposition. Furthermore, children often reveal the details of an incident when they're ready; forcing a child to relive the event over again too soon may cause trauma or make them feel frustrated that they cannot recall details from an event.
Let Them Know They're Doing The Right Thing
Often, children can feel the weight of their loved one's expectations on their shoulders in these situations. The last thing they want is to disappoint someone they care about. Instead, you should tell them that they made the right decision in testifying honestly and that your primary concern is their well-being. Tell them you are proud of them for taking such a big step, and you will remain supportive of them no matter what happens.