One of Pennsylvania’s sixteen custody factors is “The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.” 23 Pa. C.S. § 5328(a)(7). The child’s preference is only one factor that the court will consider, in addition to the other fifteen. Based on this factor, the parents have the option to bring the child to speak directly to court. The decision regarding whether to bring your child to testify in custody court is a difficult one not to be taken lightly. Even when the child has a clear preference, it still may be traumatic for them to speak to a third party about both parents. Each county has different local rules regarding the procedure for the appearance of the child at a hearing or conference. Before bringing a child to custody court, you should check with a knowledgeable family law attorney that practices in your county to discuss the pro and cons, as well as the local rules and requirements.
For example, the Chester County Family Court has the following policy regarding bringing children ages 10 and older to court: “The party requesting an order to allow their child to be brought to conciliation must provide a statement as to why the child’s appearance is necessary. This statement should be attached to the form order for appearance and submitted to Family Court well in advance of the conciliation conference, as the moving party must give ten days’ notice to the other side of the order allowing the child’s appearance. The request will be submitted to the Conciliator assigned to the case for approval/disapproval based on the reasons given only. In addition, as in the past, Family Court will deny any requests which do not comply with the local rule. We are hopeful that this policy will allow Family Court to better serve the needs of the children who are at issue in these custody disputes. It should also help ensure that all cases listed on a particular day will be heard in a timely fashion.”
Delaware County recently adopted a new local rule regarding attendance by children at hearings or conferences. There is no age cut off for how old a child must be to state his or her custodial preference. Many judges and masters will not speak to a child younger than 8 years old, or of “tender years.” Rule 1915.114(d) states “Unless the party is directed by the court, the party wishing to bring a child or children to the hearing or conference shall provide at least seven (7) days written notice to all involved parties, or, if represented, their counsel.”
Before bringing a child to custody court, you should check with a knowledgeable family law attorney that practices in your county to discuss the pro and cons, as well as the local rules and requirements. Our law firm handles these types of cases in Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Philadelphia and many other local counties. For further information, click or call (610) 892-3877.