What Happens When a Judge Meets with a Child During an "In Camera" Interview

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.