Although children may be integrally involved in the violence cycle at home, from a legal standpoint, it is extremely unusual for a child to actually be called as a witness in family court. Typically, a family court judge will let you testify about what your child said or did in an abuse situation, even though technically such testimony is considered “hearsay” and is therefore inadmissible. Most family court judges feel that protecting children is a more important goal than excluding hearsay evidence, and will let you testify. Click here for an article on child witnesses.
In the event that a judge decides that your child ought to testify, your child will be appointed his or her own attorney, or a guardian ad litem. The role of these children’s representatives is discussed in Chapter 9. The court may also make special arrangements to protect your children, such as closing the courtroom, or having the child testify in the judge’s chambers rather than in court. Again, such practices are quite rare. Children’s attorneys, guardians ad litem, Family Relations Studies and psychological studies have made the necessity of children’s testimony almost obsolete. Click here for another interesting article.
Even when the “children” are actually adults, the damage that such testimony can do to a family is oftentimes not worth the benefit derived. Asking children to testify, or scaring children into thinking they might have to testify, makes them choose one parent over another, and is potentially damaging for them emotionally. Do not do it.
What if My Child is the One Being Abused?
Violence toward a spouse is often a precursor to direct child abuse. Nearly half of the men who abuse their partners also abuse their children. Children who both witness violence and are abused themselves suffer the most negative long term consequences. These children are at highest risk when the marriage is dissolving, the couple has separated, and the father is committed to continuing to assert control over the lives of his wife and children. Some men, after their initial rage, let go. Others become more enraged as they fear their victims leaving their control. These men are the most dangerous to their children. Older children face the special problem of being assaulted when they try to intervene to protect their mothers and to stop the abuse. Daughters are more likely than sons to become their fathers’ next victims. They may experience physical or sexual abuse.
Compounding this problem, women who are abused are less able to care for their children. Researcher Lenore Walker reports that eight times as many women report using physical discipline on their children while living with their batterer than when living alone or in a non-battering relationship.
Symptoms experienced by abused children are similar to those described above for children who witness their parents’ violence. Their problems at all levels are more severe.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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- What Kinds of Witnesses Should I Consider?
- Expert Witness and Valuations
- Am I Ready to Start the Legal Divorce Process?
- What if My Child has Witnessed Violence