Family Law

Child Custody Witness

If your child custody case ends up in court, who are the witnesses you need to testify?  Well, it depends on the issues involved in the case.  For instance, if your child has a medical condition that requires special attention, you may need a medical witness.  If the child sees a therapist or counselor, that person's testimony may be important.

Teachers are a wonderful source of information.  Are both parents involved in the child's scholastic activities or is one parent more involved?  Can the teacher recognize different behaviors depending on which parent has the child?  Is one parent more involved in helping the child with homework?  Does the child seem happy at school?  Is the child disruptive?  Has the teacher noticed any substantial changes in the child's behavior or grades? All of these observations may be important to the judge deciding custody.

"Character witnesses" are well-meaning, but not particularly helpful.  The judge does not really need to hear that you are a nice person.  The judge will be more interested in a description of everyday life, such as cooking and cleaning when the child is with you.  The judge will want someone to talk about how you interact with your child, how you discipline the child and how you talk about the other parent in front of your child. Here is a partial list of other witnesses that may provide insight about your child and about your parenting:

  • Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Brownie & Girl Scout Leaders
  • t-ball,  soccer & other sports coaches
  • Sunday school teachers
  • music instructors
  • babysitters and other childcare providers
  • Parenting Coordinators

It is good to have witnesses that can talk about your interaction with the child both before and after your separation from the other parent. For instance, parents of your child's playmates can be a wealth of information.  Extended family can also fill that role. However, if your witness is going to engage in trashing your spouse in an attempt to help your case, you should probably leave that person off your witness list.  In order for a judge to consider shared or joint custody, he or she must be reasonably confident that the two parents can co-parent effectively.

Child witnesses are rarely the bombshell witnesses some parents and lawyers seem to expect.  Contrary to what many non-lawyers think, children cannot determine their custody at any age.  Unless the information from the child is extremely important, the judge may question the motives of the parent insisting that the child testify.  In most instances, it is not good parenting to drag your child into your custody battle, even if the custody decision affects that child.

Ultimately, the most important witness in your custody case is you.  You may not be able to control the way the other parent acts, but you can control how you act.  If you are petty and vindictive in your dealings with the other parent, that is likely to come out in court.  If you are respectful of the other parent, and if you keep focused on behaving in a way that is best for your child, that too will come across in court.  If you genuinely try to act in the best interest of your child you will make a far better witness and, more importantly, a far better parent.