Typically, the answer is no. There are various ways to get a child’s statements or wishes before the Court without the child physically appearing in Court and testifying in front of the parents. Further, the Courts prefer that children not participate in Court hearings and to be kept out of the litigation process as much as possible. Some Courts in Indiana also prohibit parents from bringing their children to Court at all. However, without the children testifying in person, parents will face hearsay evidentiary issues that mostly cannot be ignored. There are other, more preferred methods to get your child’s wishes before the Court, which are explored below.
This is the legal term used when children speak to the Judge in private. It is typically conducted in the Judge’s office or “in chambers”. Often times, the conversation is recorded. Depending on the case and the preference of the Judge and attorneys, the attorneys may also be present to observe the conversation. Nothing the children say may be disclosed to the parties following an in-camera interview. The Judge will take the children’s thoughts and statements into consideration before making its final custody determination.
Guardian ad Litem
A guardian ad litem is a court-appointed person to perform an investigation and report to the Court. They are the eyes and ears of the Court. These individuals will meet with both parents, the children, and often times, caregivers, teachers, coaches, family members, and whoever else may have important information regarding the children or the pending custody matter. Guardian ad Litems must complete the requisite training in order to serve with the Courts. Some are lay people while the majority are family law attorneys also experienced with the issues at hand. At the end of the investigation, the guardian ad litem will prepare a written report to the Court detailing their investigation and what recommendations, if any, they have on the custody issues. The guardian ad litem fees differ from county to county and case to case. Some guardian ad litems are volunteers and there is no fee; some cases are “cap cases” meaning there is a flat fee for all of the guardian ad litem’s work, often times ranging from $500 to $2,000; or, the guardian ad litem charges an hourly rate and the parties pay the work as the guardian ad litem performs it.
Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau (DRCB)
The DRCB is a program that is also appointed by the Court to investigate contested custody matters. It is staffed with Licensed Clinical Social Workers and some in their office also have additional training or licenses in the counseling or social work fields. One individual from the DRCB is selected to investigate the matter and report to the Court. While they can perform in-home studies, they mostly work out of their office with the parents and children coming to them for interviews. The DRCB will speak to any collateral sources the parents provide and review documents they believe are relevant to the case. At the end of their investigation, they will prepare a written report to the Court detailing their investigation and what recommendations, if any, they have on the custody issue. The DRCB fees are a set rate, but often times, parents with low or no income can qualify for a reduced rate.
Private Custody Evaluation
A private custody evaluation involves the same investigation as a guardian ad litem or the DRCB. In addition, a private custody evaluator can perform psychological and personality testing on the parents, children, and anyone else in the household. These individuals are professionals with a doctorate, mostly psychologists and psychiatrists. As such, their fees can range from $3,000 for a simple matter to $20,000 or more for more convoluted custody matters. The cost also depends on the evaluator’s hourly rate and minimum fee requirements. At the conclusion of their evaluation, they will prepare a written report to the Court with recommendations on the pending custody matter.
These methods are much preferred by the Courts when the children have vital information for the case or they want their own voice to be heard. Parents should keep their children out of the court case as much as possible, which includes exploring one of these alternative methods to get your children’s wishes in front of the Judge without calling them to testify in Court in front of the parents.