Can children speak in court?

When you are involved in parenting orders case in the Family Court, the court will consider the child's view when deciding what arrangements are in their best interests. This can include their opinions on:

  • where they they want to live and who they want to live with
  • how much time they spend with each parent and when that will happen, and
  • anything else the court needs to decide in the case if their parents are unable to agree.

Children have a choice to not tell the court what they want to happen - they are not forced to take sides. They do not normally give direct evidence in the Family Court as a witness. 

This information will help you to understand more about children’s opinions in the Family Court. Find out:

  • how the court finds out what opinions the children have
  • how the court responds to those views, and
  • the possible consequences of 'coaching' a child to give particular answers.

How can my children tell the court their views?

Children rarely give evidence in court in parenting cases. There are three other ways that the court can be told about the opinions and wishes of children in parenting cases:

  1. From information in a Family Report written by the Family Consultant, who has spoken with the children and asked their views.
  2. From an Independent Children's Lawyer, if one has been appointed by the court.
  3. From information in a report from a Single Expert Witness, who has interviewed the children and asked their views.

What will the court do if my children decide to share their views? 

The opinions of children about what they would like to happen is one of the things the court must consider when deciding what arrangements are in the best interests of each child. The court does not have to follow the child's wishes. Their views can influence the court's decision, but it is not the most important factor. There are many other things the court must also take into account when making parenting orders.

In every case, how much weight is given to a child's opinion will depend on the their age, maturity and understanding of the different options. There are no automatic rules that say how old a child can be before the court will consider their wishes, or that say the court must follow what a child wants if they have reached a certain age.

What can happen if someone tries to influence my child’s views?

The court also considers whether any of the parents or other family members have tried to influence the child's views.

The court, Independent Children’s Lawyers, family consultants and independent experts are all aware of issues such as 'coaching', where one or both parents may have tried to get children to say certain things about who they want to live with or other questions. The court does not approve of parents or family members attempting to influence their children’s views or telling children what to say if they are asked about what they want to happen in the future.

Trying to manipulate children to prefer one parent over another can have a very negative impact on the child's well-being. In extreme cases, it can result in the court deciding it would not be in the child's best interests to live with or spend large amounts of time with that person because of the harm (or potential harm) to the child from that behaviour.

If you think someone has been trying to influence what your children say, you should get legal advice as soon as possible.

 

More information

Family Court of WA
Best for Kids - What happens when your parents go to court? 
  • Posters and interactive videos to help explain the role of an Independent Children's Lawyer.
For children under 10:    Poster   Video  
For children over 10: Poster Video  
Family Court - Why am I going to see a Family Consultant?
  • Posters and video to help explain the role of a Family Consultant.
For children under 8:    Poster   Video  
For children over 8: Poster Video 

Disclaimer

The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.