Kristin Bachman, Ph.D.
Testifying in Family Court
Updated: May 17, 2019
While divorce can be complicated, custody over children can create another wrinkle in the process. Each parent contributes to the well-being of their child and shapes their character. Determining who has custody and how often ends up in family court. If parent's are amenable to a 50/50 allocation of time or some other arrangement, it often can start the healing process for children. Unfortunately, a harmonious balance of time with each parent is not typical and a court appointed therapist is brought in to assess the child's interactions with each respective parent. The therapist is seeking to identify the best environment for the child and given the nature of family court, these results tend to be contested by ones attorney.
You might be wondering why there is a court appointed therapist when your child may already be seeing a therapist to cope with the family transition. Why doesn't the child's therapist testify on what is best for them? Shouldn't the child have a say in the process? While the solution seems simple, navigating the complex issues of family court are not. If you would like the child's therapy records to be subpoenaed and used as a basis of evaluation, this requires a signed release from both parents. Otherwise, the therapist cannot disclose confidential information from the therapy sessions.
As a parent who is supporting their child through this process, what should you be concerned about?
When therapy notes granted to the court and each respective attorney, the intimate details and struggles that your child is facing now become record for each side to scrutinize.
This can potentially damage the client - therapist relationship. In order for therapy to be constructive, there has to be a foundation of trust. If the child happens to be in family court or one parent addresses some of the issues brought to light, it can cause the child to question the trust built overtime.
Additionally, the primary therapist will need to testify court to ensure that the appointed notes are interpreted accurately and in the spirit of the child, not in favor or bias for one of the parents.
In the event that the court mandates specific treatment plans or subsequent actions, the primary psychologist can decline to provide such treatment or conduct other treatment plans pursuant to his or her professional judgement.
Understand that after a divorce and the child grows, their feelings about their parents are likely to change as well. As you observe these changes, its important to set aside your personal feelings related to your ex-spouse and work together so your child can successfully navigate these life changes.
At what age can the child speak for themselves?
In California, no law permits a child to choose custody, most courts believe 14 years of age is old enough to express themselves and the reasons why they prefer one parent over the other. The courts ultimately take all factors into account, and while their voice has weight, the courts do not take everything a face value.