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Can a Child Testify in Custody Cases in New Jersey?

Custody battles can be heart wrenching and extremely stressful. When it comes to fighting for custody of your child, it may feel like there is so much at stake. At the same time, it can be hard to understand the complex laws that govern child custody in New Jersey.

There are several factors that a judge will consider when deciding parenting time, including the preferences of your child. However, this does not necessarily mean that your child will be called to testify during your custody case.

Determining Factors for Parenting Time in NJ

New Jersey Code 9:2-4 lists several factors that a judge must consider when deciding custody. The preferences of the child “when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision” is just one of those factors.

Other factors include but are not limited to:

  • Parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child
  • Parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse
  • Interaction and relationship of the child with parents and siblings
  • History of domestic violence
  • Safety of the child and either parent from abuse from other parent
  • Needs of the child
  • Stability of home environment
  • Quality and continuity of child’s education
  • Fitness of parents
  • Geographical proximity of parents’ homes
  • Extent and quality of time spent with child prior to separation
  • Parents’ employment responsibilities
  • Age and number of children

Notwithstanding all of these other factors that must be considered, the statute does not indicate at what age children should be considered old or mature enough to testify as to their custody preferences. However, many experienced family law attorneys find that 14 years of age can be a good rule of thumb for when a minor child might be ready to provide their preferences to the court.

Even if a child’s preference is considered, it may not be in open court. A judge may interview a child in chambers or may consult reports from third parties with whom the child already has contact, including teachers, therapists, or social workers.

Deane v. Deane

In the 2015 unpublished opinion in the case of Deane v. Deane, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled against a trial court decision to base parenting time on the preferences of a couple’s 12-year-old child. This was not due to the age of the child but instead because the appellate court found that the trial judge had not given due consideration to the other 13 factors that should determine the best interests of the child. In a previous blog, we discussed how New Jersey courts determine what is in a child’s best interests. It is important to keep in mind that even if your child testifies in court, this will just be one of many factors that determine custody. In most cases, a child should be called to testify only as a last resort.

Reach Out to Lane & Lane, LLC Today

If you are facing a custody dispute, the seasoned family law attorneys at Lane & Lane, LLC can help advocate for your rights and negotiate a parenting arrangement that is in the best interests of your child. We are here to provide the steady support, legal guidance, and personalized attention that you and your family need during this time.

Contact us online or call us at (908) 259-6673 to schedule a consultation.