Testifying is a terrifying thing. Adults tremble at the thought of accidentally answering a question wrong or what is going to happen if they answer truthfully. The thought of having every word possibly twisted into an undesirable outcome is a heavy burden to hold. This is why it’s frowned upon to have children testify. The burden is sometimes too heavy for someone so small and fragile to bear. However, there are a few instances in which it may be necessary. In those instances we like to point out these tips:
- Don’t attempt to coach them! Children are inherently honest. They say the most blessed things even if it is something along the lines of “Daddy told me that mommy is a coke addict. He said that she has it all the time, and that he’s the only one who truly loves me and that one day she’ll die. That’s not true though. I’ve only seen her drink Pepsi. Also daddy said to tell you that mommy punches me. That only happened when she was playing Dance Central and I ran in front of her. She was so sorry.” Children’s honesty, and lack of being a good liar, may just show that you had coached them all along. That is bad news bears for you going forward in the case. Even if they don’t come right out and say that you told them to lie, both lawyers and judges are good at catching when a child has been coached. The last thing you want is to be seen as someone who bullies or manipulates their child into false testimony when you’re trying to get custody.
- Consider their age! Children are not always seen as a competent witness. You have to show that this child knows the difference between a truth and a lie. Also, some children will talk to their mommy, daddy, sisters, or brothers all day long, but talking to the judge is very intimidating. Will they clam up on the stand? Will they be able to answer questions effectively? Will this all be a waste of time? This is something to think about when you want to have little two year old Tommy testify to his daddy’s alcohol intake.
- How will it affect them emotionally? As I said above, testifying is a pretty big deal emotionally, whether you’re 4 or 40, testifying is hard to do. Knowing what you have to say is so important it could make or break a case, is difficult for anyone. This is why judges aren’t a fan of putting children on the stand. They don’t like it, and neither do lawyers. Children are fragile and a wild card. You never know exactly what is going to happen when they are put on the spot. They may begin crying nonstop. They may stop talking completely. You must realize, as a parent, you should find the testimony elsewhere if possible. You don’t want your entire case to rely on the children to say that daddy throws spaghetti at them and forces them to eat bumble bees when it may or may not be the truth.
- What happens in Chambers stays in Chambers. Under no circumstances should you ask what was asked in Chambers. You need to let your children be. Just as you should be keeping the case from the kids at all costs, you shouldn’t be harassing them about what they told the judge. The last thing little Tommy wants is to by accosted by his mother in the hallway as to if the judge asked him directly what and how often daddy is drinking whiskey. Also, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re coaching them if you refuse to let them testify in chambers away from you.
- Consider a counselor. You should consider getting a counselor for the child if they have to testify. It’s a very emotionally draining event, and a counselor can act as an intermediary in what the child has said and conveyed to them, and what the child has trouble conveying to the court.