When a court is called upon to make custody determinations (whether temporary or permanent in nature), the court is always guided by the child’s best interest. This can be difficult for the court to determine, especially if one parent is claiming one set of orders would be in the child’s best interest, and the other parent is claiming a completely different set of orders would advance the child’s best interest. Because many custody litigants know that a “he-said-she-said”-type proceeding is not likely to be resolved favorably, some litigants are beginning to bring and call witnesses to testify on their behalf during these custody hearings.
Favorable Witnesses in Custody Disputes
The following witnesses, however, are likely to have more credibility with the judge, and their opinion is often given more weight:
- Your child’s teachers: Your teachers can provide valuable and objective insight into your child’s adaptation to school, whether he or she has friends at school, and his or her professional opinion on whether your child would suffer harm if removed from the school district and placed in another area. Because courts consider that teachers have a child’s educational well-being forefront in their minds, a teacher’s testimony can be especially powerful.
- The parents of neighborhood kids: While you should not call the neighborhood kids themselves as witnesses, you can – and should – consider calling the neighborhood kids’ parents. The parents can testify about the relationships your child has developed with neighborhood kids and any behavioral issues they have noticed when your child plays with their child.
- Counselors: If your child has a counselor or therapist and has reported concerns to this person, you may need to have the counselor present at your custody hearing to testify on your behalf. Your child’s counselor can also opine as to your child’s development and adjustment to his or her present living arrangements. (Note that there may be some evidentiary issues that may prevent the counselor from testifying, especially if the other parent does not want the content of counseling sessions to be made part of the court’s record.) For more information see the article on Legal Zoom regarding character witnesse’s in a divorce.
Witnesses You Should Not Call in a Custody Dispute
Not all witnesses are created equally, however. Some witnesses will be more persuasive and advantageous to a litigant than others. Some of the individuals you do not want to call as witnesses for your custody hearing include:
- Your child: Even though this point is oft-repeated, it is worth emphasizing: Do not put your children in the middle of your custody dispute, especially if the children are young. Having to testify in court and say which parent the child prefers is extremely traumatizing to the child and can foster a plethora of negative emotions. In any event, some judges will not even permit children to take the stand.
- Your parents or relatives: If there are one or two people that should always believe in you and believe the best about you, it should be your mother and father. This is why the child’s grandparents often make bad witnesses in a custody hearing. A court is likely to presume your parents have a bias in your favor and against the other parent and will likely disregard much of what your parents have to say about your parenting abilities and the abilities of the other parent.
- Neighborhood kids: If your child has friends his or her age in the neighborhood, do not call them as witnesses to testify as to their friendship with your child. Even if this were permitted or encouraged by the child’s parents, testifying in court for a neighborhood child can be scary and unpleasant. Insisting that your child’s neighborhood friend testify is likely to damage the relationship you have with the neighborhood child’s parents as well.