It’s possible. If a California couple finds themselves actually going to court to fight over custody, before they walk into that courtroom that couple is going to have to go meet with a psychologist that is employed by the court. The process is called child custody mediation, or child custody counselling.
The parties are going to be forced to meet with that mediator to try and resolve their parenting disputes before they actually set foot in the courtroom in front of the judge. And that mediator, or that child custody counsellor, utilizing his or her mental health training and professional training in this context, is going to try and negotiate a resolution.
But if that negotiation and that settlement is not possible, then what that child custody mediator does is becomes an advisor to the court, actually submitting a written report to the judge explaining the interaction that she has had with each parent and explaining the requests that each parent is making. Then that mediator recommends a particular parenting plan to the judge and, as part of that process, that mediator has the prerogative to interview the children. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, that’s when the children have a say. That’s when they provide input. They provide it to the mediator, who then reports it to the judge.
As far as when the children are entitled to have that say, it is really left up the discretion of the mediator. What the mediator is looking for is children who have reached a level of maturity such that they can communicate a preference without suffering some other collateral damage and can communicate a preference that is reflective of genuine thought on the child’s part, rather than conditioning or guilt being driven in by a parent.
John Harding is the principal of the law firm of Harding & Associates in Northern California. He practices family law litigation and divorce mediation exclusively.