The Role of the Judge in Child Custody Proceedings

What to Expect When Your Child Custody Case Goes to Court

Senior female judge at the bench reading paper
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A judge plays a very important role in deciding child custody cases. Often parents may be intimidated by judges in family court proceedings, fearing their family's fate lies in the hands of one person. To alleviate this fear, it helps to focus on the role of the judge. He or she is there to:

  • Hear all sides of the story
  • Speak to the children involved
  • Order additional evaluations, such as educational reports to determine how the child is performing in school
  • Interview neutral third parties (i.e. psychologists, social workers, doctors)
  • Appoint a law guardian, if the judge deems it necessary. A law guardian is considered to be the child's attorney. A law guardian's main focus is to act in the best interest of the child.
  • Reach a decision based on the best interest of the child

A judge in family court proceedings often has a more difficult job than a judge in other civil court proceedings, because a family court judge is making decisions that will have a permanent effect on a child. Additionally, in family court proceedings, there is no jury. The judge makes a determination about what is true and not true based on a number of factors, including:

  • Any history of domestic violence
  • The child's wishes if the child is old enough for the court to consider his/her opinion
  • The parent's wishes
  • Whether one parent is the primary caretaker
  • The mental and physical stability of all parties involved

The judge does not have an obligation to treat all parties fairly. Instead, the judge only acts in the best interest of the child. However, the judge will consider the wants and needs of all parties involved. In addition, parents are free to speak to an attorney or court advocate in their state for more information about a judge's role in child custody proceedings.