When a Judge must decide which parent should have residential
custody of a child, the Judge will often meet with the child in what is referred to as an
“in camera” interview. The in camera is typically held in
the Judge’s chambers. The only individuals who are allowed to attend
the in camera are the child’s attorney and a court reporter who
will record what is said. A court officer may also be present but this
is not always the case.
What is discussed during the in camera is confidential and will not be
shared with either the parents or their attorneys. The transcript of the
in camera will only be made available to an appellate court, should the
Judge’s decision be appealed.
Each Judge has their own individual style for conducting an in camera
with a child. Some judges will ask the questions themselves while others
will rely on the child’s attorney to lead the conversation. Typically,
the attorneys for the parents will be given an opportunity to submit questions
in advance of the in camera that will be asked of the child. Some Judges
are apprehensive to ask a child which parent they want to live with as
such a question could put a lot of pressure on the child. Often Judges
will inquire as to the child’s relationship with and feelings towards
each parent without directly asking the child’s preference.
In ultimately determining what
custodial arrangement would be in the child’s best interests, the Judge will take into
account many factors, only one of which is the child’s preference,
but the older and more mature the child is, the more significance the
Court will place on their expressed wishes.
If a Judge gets the impression that a child has been coached or influenced
on what to say during the in camera, the Judge may choose to discount
the child’s wishes. As a parent of a child that is going to participate
in an in camera with the Judge, it is important to make sure that you
do not say anything to the child that could cause the Judge to believe
that the child has been unduly influenced.