How much do the child’s wishes matter in parenting time disputes?
Disputes over parenting time require the court to make decisions in the child’s best interests. This requires a consideration of several statutory factors. One of those factors is the child’s wishes as to parenting time. This does not mean that the child gets to decide. It simply means that the child’s wishes should be considered, provided the child is mature enough to express a reasoned and independent preference.
So then, how are the child’s wishes presented to the court? There is authority for the court to interview a child in private to determine the child’s wishes; however, this is rarely done because courts try avoid involving the child in the parenting time dispute.
One way to bring the child’s wishes to the court is through a Child and Family Investigator (“CFI”). The CFI is court-appointed and may be an attorney, mental health professional, or any other person with appropriate training and qualifications acceptable to the court who has no family, financial or social ties to the parties, attorneys or the children.
A CFI is charged with the responsibility to investigate, report and make recommendations to the court, as the court directs, in the best interests of the child. As such, the CFI is to consider the child’s wishes, if expressed, and those wishes shall be provided in the CFI’s written report. Although the CFI must consider and report on the child’s wishes, they are not required to adopt those wishes in their recommendations unless they serve the child’s best interests.
While a court can appoint a CFI on its own initiative, most CFIs are appointed by filing a motion with the court. Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that a court will appoint a CFI since the decision to appoint a CFI is left to the court’s discretion. If you believe a CFI appointment is appropriate you should request the appointment as early as possible to increase the chances of getting the court’s approval and to allow sufficient time for the CFI to conduct their investigation.
If you are facing a parenting time dispute and want your child’s wishes to be heard, consider the appointment of a CFI. Evans Case, LLP can help you with resolving parenting time disputes and with the selection and appointment of a CFI in your case.