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What is an In Camera Child Custody Hearing?

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the words “in camera” mean “in private.” Thus, an in camera child custody hearing is a hearing in which a judge or magistrate interviews a minor without involving a videotape or camera. Typically, the interview is conducted in the absence of the minor’s lawyer or parents. The main goal of the interview is to ensure that the child is both secure and comfortable when expressing his views on child-related matters, including visitation and custody. This helps the court to understand the wishes of the child and make a determination that is in his best interest.

Who Are the Attendees?

Typically, a magistrate or judge conducts the interview. At its discretion, the court may allow a Guardian ad Litem to attend the interview. Since the interview involves transcription, a court reporter is usually present. However, attorneys, parents, or any other party is not allowed to access the transcript of the hearing because the wishes of the child must be kept confidential.

How Is the Hearing Done?

Although each magistrate or judge has his own way of conducting an in camera child custody hearing, the person who conducts the interview must ensure that the child is as comfortable as possible. To achieve this, the judge or magistrate must interview the child in an informal and conversational way. Typically, the interview involves subtle questions that help the court to understand the child’s wishes better. Additionally, the judge may be careful to determine if the child has been coached by any of his parents.

How Is an In Camera Hearing Obtained?

To obtain an in camera child custody hearing, the party that seeks to have the hearing will file a motion with the court. If the court grants the motion, the minor will be made available to the court for the hearing. The court shall issue instructions on the date and time when the hearing will take place. Typically, the minor is not allowed to appear in the court before the motion is granted. This is part of the measures to limit the child’s discomfort.

When Is the Hearing Conducted?

Typically, an in camera child custody hearing takes place after the court has heard the child custody case. However, it is the discretion of the court to handle the matter in its own way. It is important to note that each court may have its own rules that govern in camera hearings. While some courts may interview the minor on the day of trial, others choose to interview the child on a separate date. In some cases, the court will allow the attorneys from both parties to suggest topics of the in camera hearing.

When Is a Child Suitable for an In Camera Hearing?

A child qualifies for an in camera interview if he is sufficiently old and mature to express his wishes. An older child has higher chances of having his wishes considered by the court than a younger child. In fact, the wishes of a “too young” child may not be considered by the court because the child may lack the maturity needed to determine his custody. The court must also determine that the child is free from any legal disability.

Is It Possible for a Party to Prevent a Child From an In Camera Hearing?

Once the motion to have an in camera child custody hearing is filed in court, a party has the right to file an objection. However, the court has the mandate to conduct the hearing if any of the parties requests so. In cases where the child is under counseling therapy, it is important to inform the child’s counselor about the process before the hearing takes place. The counselor will help the child to eliminate any stress related to the hearing.

Will the Hearing Take Place Despite the Appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem?

If any of the parties requests the court to conduct the hearing, the court will proceed to interview the child even if the Guardian ad Litem has done his investigation. However, some people see this as a duplicate of the investigation.

Does the Child’s Parents Access the Details of the Hearing?

In most cases, the magistrate or judge allows the attorneys from both parties to enter the courtroom once the in camera hearing is over. Although the court will share some details of the hearing with the attorneys, most of the content of the hearing is kept confidential to prevent any retaliation from either parent.

Bottom line

Keeping a child out of a custody court process should take precedence over other things. An in camera child custody hearing may have negative consequences on the child. The child may misinterpret the hearing to mean he is being forced to make a hard choice; hence, the hearing should be requested only when there is a serious need for it. However, if the minor demonstrates a strong desire to express his wishes, then he should be allowed to do so.