I am in a middle of a custody case. My 2 boys have lived with me for over 6 years. Visitations with mom every other weekend. My eldest has suddenly and completely turned against me. My youngest (age 8) just told me that mom is coaching him to say certain things in court when the time comes, specifically that he is to say that he wishes to live with mom, accuse step-mom of mistreatment. He is scared.
I know parents are not supposed to discuss the court case with kids but this puts me at a huge disadvantage. Can I ask my son to write down the conversations in his private diary after every visit? Is this admissable in court?
Divorce / Separation Lawyer
I really advise against you asking your son to write down the conversations with his mother. I realize the huge disadvantage you're facing, but try to remember how scared your son is right now--asking him to do this is going to cause further damage. Right now he trusts you and came to you believing that it was safe to do so. The best thing you can do for his is to assure him that you love him and that the only thing you expect of him is to be honest, just like you expect him to be honest in every other situation. Make sure he knows that you are not telling him to say anything specific. This isn't about taking sides--the judge is just trying to do what is best for him, and in order for that to happen, he or she needs to know the truth. It doesn't matter what mom wants and it doesn't matter what dad wants.
If the children aren't in therapy already, make sure that you get them in ASAP. Also, if finances allow you to, consider asking for a full custody evaluation. Even if your kids are lying because of coercion from their mom, an evaluator is likely to pick that up because at your youngest son's age, there will be too many inconsistencies in his stories.
Also, if you don't have an attorney, please get one now. Your children's well-being is worth the cost.
Criminal Defense Attorney
No. You should never put the children in the middle. Instead, you may file a Moition seeking to have the child visit with a counselor in order to ferret out the cause of his distress.
Family Law Attorney
It is true that parents are not supposed to involve the children is their custody issues or any other issues involved in the case. Unfortunately, parents frequently involve children in such matters, coach them, bribe them and otherwise try and get them to do or say things to assist them in attaining their desired result. This is wrong and offends me to the core of my being. However, I would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to believe otherwise.
If you end up in a custody battle, the children will not be speaking directly with the judicial officer. Instead, they will be speaking to a custody evaluator and/or Minor's Counsel. It is VERY important that if this matter goes to some sort of custody evaluation, that you make sure that the evaluator is someone who is smart enough to know whether or not the children were coached and be able to see what is really going on in the situation. Just because someone is a custody evaluator does not mean that they are skilled at the task I described.
In any event, two wrongs do not make a right. DO NOT INVOLVE YOUR CHILDREN. DO NOT ASK THEM QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT THE OTHER PARENT IS HAVING THEM DO IN THAT REGARD. DO NOT HAVE THEM WRITE SUCH THINGS IN A DIARY.
I have been answering many questions on AVVO and giving my opinion of what will occur if a matter went before a judicial officer based upon the facts as I understand them. However, I want to point out that such an opinion is based upon many factors, not the least of which is that the party have an experienced family law attorney representing them on the matter. If facts and issues of law are not properly placed before the court, the results could be very different than otherwise expected.
The response given is not intended to create, nor does it create an ongoing duty to respond to questions. The response does not form an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. The response given is based upon the limited facts provided by the person asking the question. To the extent additional or different facts exist, the response might possibly change.