In Arizona, At What Age Does A Child’s Preference Factor In To The Custody Decision?
In Arizona, either parent can request that the child be interviewed, or the judge can order that the child be interviewed. The child most likely will not be interviewed by the judge. Instead, if an interview is even appropriate in a particular case, the child is likely to be interviewed by what is called a Court Appointed Advisor or a Best Interest Attorney.
Court Appointed Advisors and/or Best Interest Attorneys are appointed in cases where either or both parents are alleged to be unfit or unstable, or if there are significant questions about the safety of the environment in which the child is living. The Court Appointed Advisor or Best Interest Attorney will ask the child questions that are geared toward determining how well-adjusted the child is to each parent, how much time the child wants to spend with each parent, and other factors that are important to the issue of which parent the child should be spending the majority of time with. A Best Interest Attorney is always an attorney and cannot be called as a witness in the case, whereas a Court Appointed Advisor is usually a psychologist and can be called as witness in the case. The job of a Best Interest Attorney is to advocate to the judge what is best for the child, even if that position is not good for either or both parents. It is far more common for a Court Appointed Advisor to be the appointed; Best Interest Attorneys are usually appointed only in the most severe cases of allegations of unfitness.
When it comes to the minimum age a child can be in order to be interviewed, the very general rule is that the child needs to be at least 12 years old. However, if good reasons exist, they can be much younger than that when they are interviewed. The more severe the allegations, the more likely the judge will order that a child under age 12 be interviewed if an interview would make sense in that case.
Court Appointed Advisors are often trained in the mental health fields. Many, if not most, are psychologists or social workers. The other context in which a child may be interviewed is a parenting conference. In Arizona, a judge can order the parents to attend a parenting conference. A parenting conference is held with a mental health professional who will meet with both parents, and usually interview the children as well if they are teenagers.
As of 2016, the cost of a parenting conference is $300 per side, although the judge can permit that amount to be paid in installments if appropriate. Something else to know is that older teenagers, ages 16 and 17, generally have a very big say in which parent they want to live with primarily. At that age, it is possible that the judge may actually conduct the interview himself or herself.
Finally, something to be on the lookout for, especially with younger children, is coaching by the other parent. It is relatively common for parents to try to influence what the child says when the child is interviewed. An experienced and skilled mental health professional sometimes will pick up on this and put that information in the report that is required to be submitted to the court. However, many times, this kind of sinister coaching is overlooked. But there are techniques that can be employed to minimize the likelihood of coaching and to expose it if it has been done. Also, independent experts on parental alienation may be needed to demonstrate to the court the degree of psychological influence one parent is exerting on the child in order to get the child to defy the other parent.
It is important for the parent whose child is about to be interviewed to be prepared for how to properly inform the child of the interview and to not discuss the case with the child. Judges get upset when a parent talks to the child about the custody case. Children should not be burdened with such matters. They should be free to live their lives as children and without the emotional turmoil of having to concern themselves about what is going on with the fight between their parents.
If you are not sure whether Children Have A Say In Custody Matters, call Thomas Law Office, PLC for a consultation at (602) 466-7055 and get the information and legal answers you’re seeking.