What happens during a divorce when abuse is present? How do you safeguard yourself and those you love during those tough times? Divorce can be an incredibly difficult experience, and it gets even more complicated when abuse is involved. With the help of Susan and Tracy in this episode, you’ll learn how to safeguard yourself or your loved ones during these tough times. Knowing the signs of various forms of abuse could prove vital for protecting both yourself and those around you from further harm.
Get familiar with this phrase “it depends,” because there are so many factors that influence custody rights. Susan and Tracy go through the list of ‘it depends’ situations to help us better understand the rights of every person involved in the process.
Susan Reff: On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about custody and when kids get to decide the custody of the case.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: If kids get to decide
Susan Reff: Right, if situations where, if and maybe when. And it
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Depends.
Susan Reff: As usual, if in when and it depends.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, those are like the lawyerly who, what, when, where, why and how.
Susan Reff: It sounds like a law school question if then when. And the answer is it depends.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, just always end with it depends.
Susan Reff: It depends. Yeah. Lawyers never really want to be certain, right?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. Like, I can’t guarantee it. But if this happens,
Susan Reff: Then this could
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Possibly. But it depends on this other thing that we haven’t even talked about yet. Right. So that’s that’s that’s the overview of the podcast today. Get ready. Strap in.
Susan Reff: So your hair’s really pink, and it’s been pink for like this whole week, right?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: It is pink. I, you know, my sister in law is my hairdresser, which I’m really lucky because, you know, you kind of feel like you have to go to your family member, but she’s great. So that’s good.
Susan Reff: And she was terrible. You keep going just because she’s your sister in law.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: No, I’d have to find some excuse. You know, like, her location isn’t very convenient for me, so I I would probably base it on that. So. So she’s good. And I’ve always thought, like, it would be really fun to have a little pink stripe or something. Well, my hair is so short. You can’t just stick a pink stripe in. And anyways, so she finds this pink shampoo and it’s hot pink and you use it as a normal shampoo and it colors your hair pink. And then she told me two regular shampoos later it will be gone.
Susan Reff: So did she put this in, or did you put it in?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: No. So I put it in. And so in the shower, there’s just like pink coming down my body because it’s goes in that strong links. And yeah, so there’s it’s supposed to come out two shampoos later, and there’s been probably 20 shampoos and it’s still pink.
Susan Reff: Did did you put it just on part of your hair? Because right now it’s only like on the
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Top right, it’s six to any color that you have. So, oh, it has stuck to the highlight system that’s in my hair, so I enjoy the pink. It was lucky I didn’t have to go to court this week. I don’t know what would what some judges would think.
Susan Reff: Probably. I mean, I can’t I can’t see at this point in your career a judge being like, Oh, well, you can’t appear in my courtroom or whatever because you have pink hair. It depends, right? It depends on which judge. It does depend as usual.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So anyways, it’s still pink. I don’t know really what I’m supposed to do about it. And if I really care about it at this point
Susan Reff: Right now, I think you should get another color
Tracy Hightower-Henne: On top of it.
Susan Reff: Yeah, and see what happens.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: What is pink mixed with yellow? It turns into mushy, right? Pink doesn’t mix with other colors as well.
Susan Reff: So have you consulted with your sister in law?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: What to do? She’s in Vegas right now.
Susan Reff: I’m sure her phone works.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. I was trying not to bother her about my pink hair because it was OK for now. But what? What makes pink?
Susan Reff: What two colors make red and white, right?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I think yes, that is true. But then red meat red is made from blue and yellow. I don’t know. So math and colors were bad. So listeners help us out colors.
Susan Reff: Now we’re bad at colors.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Great. Good thing. We don’t really need to do colors when we talk about custody, right?
Susan Reff: So I have two large pink zits on my chin. Did you color him? No, this is so annoying. I’m like almost 50 years old and I have two giant zits on my chin.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I’m looking the big microphones in your face. I can’t see them from here.
Susan Reff: They’re getting bent like, and I literally did the right thing this time, right? I didn’t pick at Adam. I didn’t put excessive makeup on them to try to cover them up or anything.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I literally see nothing on your face.
Susan Reff: So they’re like they’re like horns sticking like a thing, sticking out of my chin.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So they’re like bottom unicorn horns on your chin. It’s like,
Susan Reff: Yeah, like a rhinoceros horn sticking out of my chin.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I think a rhinoceros horn is still on its head, right
Susan Reff: On its nose, I think. Oh, true.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So make sure rhinoceros.
Susan Reff: But it’s like, at what point do we get to grow out of this stupid stuff, like with our skin never right? Right?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So then you have to do the green stick, right? When you have like red on your face, you counterbalance with green.
Susan Reff: Yeah. And I didn’t do that to try to, you know, like I was like, it’s I don’t really have anything major this week where I want to make sure no one can see, you know, I didn’t pick at them. I didn’t do anything, and they just are not going away. So maybe this is part of getting older.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So this episode is about color,
Susan Reff: Pink hair, pink
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Zits. I think it’s I think it’s as we get older, it’s like less fucks that we give right about what people think about our pink hair. Pink sits right, but it’s so hard. I think being a professional right?
Susan Reff: Well, and I mean, I’ve kind of had skin care issues like my whole life with, you know, I had acne pretty bad when I was a kid, and I’ve never really been one to just slap a whole bunch of makeup on. So, you know, and I feel like I have a good skincare routine. So I. And these are, you know, it’s like, why? Why on my chin? Anyway.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I don’t know who’s going to answer that question for you.
Susan Reff: Probably no one. Yeah, it depends. It depends on who you ask.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. If you ask a dermatologist, they’ll tell you why.
Susan Reff: Yes, but this is a good reminder for me to go to my dermatologist because I need to do that at least yearly. So great. Let’s talk about kids and custody and divorce.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes. So this is obviously a huge topic. And so today’s podcast, we want to narrow that topic really into when and if. And it depends when kids can testify. We we get that question so often and usually even on day one, right? If a client is interested in their kid having a say in some sort of custody, we are hearing that at the console
Susan Reff: And it comes in the form of at what age can my kid come into court and tell the judge what they want?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Because Google will tell you there’s some Magic Age. I don’t even know what Google says the age is,
Susan Reff: And I don’t know if other states have like a threshold age, but Nebraska does not. Nebraska does not say at a certain age, then kids are allowed to come in the courtroom and testify.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I think it seems to be that a lot of people get from the internet that somehow 12 years old is a magical start and that’s so young.
Susan Reff: I seem to hear 12, 13, 14. I feel like 12 and 14 are the ones I hear all the time.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: That’s a big spread.
Susan Reff: I’m guessing maybe those numbers are coming up. Maybe when people are Googling, I’m not sure
Tracy Hightower-Henne: And asking Jeeves. Jeeves probably has a totally different answer. But the other thing that’s really important to for the listeners is that we are lawyers in Nebraska, and each child for custody purposes is considered a child until they turn 19. So oftentimes we even have clients come and ask, Well, my kids 17, surely they’re old enough to testify in court? Or maybe we it doesn’t even start with a client recognizing that a kid telling a judge what they want to do actually is in the form of testimony at some point. So we are getting our clients say to us typically in that console, well, my kid gets to decide right. And that question is so wrong with so many different answers that we can provide that getting to decide means a lot of different things.
Susan Reff: And we only ever get this question or this statement from the parent where the kid is apparently saying, that’s the parent, I want to live with the other. Of course, the other parent doesn’t say, Oh, is my kid going to come to court and testify against me?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Right. So so the other thing in Nebraska and probably most states, but in Nebraska, we have two different kinds of custody. We have legal custody and very separately, we have physical custody. So legal custody is the parent’s decision making abilities for their kids. So that often relates to medical decisions, educational decisions and religious decisions. And that’s almost it. Right?
Susan Reff: Yeah. Legal custody is decision making and and I tell clients and consults right off the bat, you know, the majority of judges are going to assume that you’ve been married for quite a while. You’re both fit enough to make decisions on behalf of your kids. And I think what their point in doing joint legal custody is to not have one parent cut the other parent out of decision making for the kids.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: But what do you tell the clients that say but Susan, I’ve been the parent in our marriage that’s made all the decisions, and I make all the doctors appointments and I take the kids to all the doctor’s appointments and all their activities, so I should have sole legal custody.
Susan Reff: So what I tell people like that is, I say, that’s very normal in a family where one parent does that kind of work, and that doesn’t mean the other parents incapable, and it doesn’t mean that you’re not. Involving the other parent, you know, you’re not saying I took Timmy to the doctor today and he had his checkup and he got a flu shot, and he’s super healthy. Like, I mean, it’s kind of silly for both parents to take time off work or whatever to go to the doctor, to have the doctor say your kid’s totally fine now. You know, if the kid has special needs, that’s a whole different story. But when they’re, you know, routine things, I think most families get in a, I mean, I’m the one in my family that takes my son to all the appointments. I mean, and then I just give my husband an update. I’m like, Hey, Jonathan had a doctor’s appointment today. He’s totally fine. And that that just works. But it doesn’t mean the other parent. You know, my husband isn’t capable of doing that or shouldn’t be involved in the decision making to do it. And that’s, I think, how judges look at it.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So are you telling me that the history of what you do in your marriage is not a factor of what a judge takes into consideration of what you’re going to go doing forward as a divorced couple?
Susan Reff: I think the judge would consider the history, but if it’s very routine and normal, like like what you’ve described, like one parent just always takes the kid to the doctor or the dentist, I think the judge is going to be like, OK. And the other thing to remember is probably one parent still only going to take the kid to the doctor even if you are divorced because it’s just convenient, right?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So legal custody is a separate thing, and we often sometimes tell clients that really want to fight hard for sole legal custody that it’s really not likely you’re going to get sole legal custody unless the other parent is all of the above a drug dealer, a pedophile and
Susan Reff: Has a history of making really bad decisions on behalf of your child
Tracy Hightower-Henne: And does meth in front of the children on a daily basis five times a day, like all of those things have to really be happening.
Susan Reff: Really, you have to be the worst parent. Not just sometimes not the best parent, right?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: The worst parent all the time, every minute of the day. So, so likely you’re going to have joint legal custody. But then when it comes to physical custody, that’s the amount of days and amount of overnights that each child is having with their parent. And that’s really where we get into. Can a kid have some decision making peace to that?
Susan Reff: Yeah. So it’s the schedule, like, where is Sara going to be on what days of the week?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. So because it depends whether a kid gets to testify or have a decision in this piece of custody, it really breaks down into what’s the age of maturity level of the child.
Susan Reff: The law in Nebraska gave us some really helpful guidelines, right?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes. Super helpful. It’s really clear. Put these things into play and then a judge will make a decision. So it’s got fluffy language like on sound reasoning. Whether the child is of sufficient age of comprehension and what that really means is, is the judge finding that this child is mature enough despite their chronological age. So you may have a 17 year old who is super immature, gets really bad grades, isn’t able to understand the difference of telling the truth in a lie. And that judge is going to say they can’t testify. I don’t trust them what they’re going to tell me. And you may have a 12 year old who is super mature, and that same judge may say they get to testify.
Susan Reff: So if if a case is going towards trial on the custody issue and a parent thinks they would like to have their child testify, you know, technically the kid is just a witness and you can call whatever witnesses you want to call on your behalf like a parent may say, I want to call my sister to testify. Oh, my, I might want to call the preschool teacher. I might call my neighbor. So the child is considered a witness, but they’re treated very differently inside the courtroom and by the
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Judge, right? So if you want your child to testify in our office, we’re going to do a lot of communication about why what’s the reason and are there alternatives to potentially putting your child either in the courtroom or in the judge’s chambers to talk potentially badly about one of their parents? And we’re going to have some conversation about what are those alternatives before we even talk about putting a child, bringing the child to court at all? Right.
Susan Reff: Right. So one of the one of the my favorite alternative is if the child is in therapy, having a therapist come and testify basically as to what would be in the child’s best interest. That way, you’re kind of getting the same, you’re getting the child’s opinion in, but it doesn’t come in as the child’s opinion. It actually comes in as the therapist’s opinion because the therapist and the child are generally aligned.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Right. So if we have a therapist working with the child, they’re going to have set up some treatment goals and maybe coping skills. So let’s let’s say we have a child who is 15 years old and they are adamant that they don’t want to go to one parent’s house and they’re going to work with their therapist on, you know, what are the reasons for that? Let’s dive into that and let’s figure out some coping skills because likely and we tell our clients this you’re probably never going to have a parenting schedule where the judge says the one child never has to go see the other parent.
Susan Reff: I saw a statistic I think about 10 years ago that in Nebraska, it was like an overview of parenting plans that were final. And it said something like two percent of parenting plans. Final parenting plans ended with supervised visits for one parent. And so, you know, maybe a case might start that way, but to finish that way is super rare. So I tell clients that kind of thing all the time, too.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, there’s a lot of different end results of a parenting plan. And supervised visitation is pretty stringent. It’s probably one of the most restrictive types of parenting time.
Susan Reff: I think it would be unheard of for a judge to say one parent gets no parenting time whatsoever, ever, unless I mean, I can’t even
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Sure all of the above right? You’re doing meth in front of the child every day. You’re a
Susan Reff: Pedophile. But in those cases, the judge usually says if you’ve done treatment, if you show four hundred clean drug tests, if you have a sponsor, if you if your therapist recommends that if the child’s I mean like right, the judge gives the person the steps to get to parenting time. Right. They might be completely unreachable for that person, but the person has the ability to get parenting time.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So we’re talking, though, about a therapist being involved with whatever age child that just doesn’t want to go to that parents house. And let’s say none of those things are present, right? We don’t have really a bad parent. Just child has some sort of desire based on whatever reason that they don’t want to go to that parents house. So what what is the therapist going to be testifying about or or what cases have you had working with a therapist?
Susan Reff: So most of the cases where their kids are in therapy is there’s there’s either been an event with that parent that the kid like points to, as this is the moment where I’ve decided I don’t want to see that person. And it usually involves discipline, either physical or non-physical, where the child thinks it was too much like they’ve made up their mind. Like, I don’t want to be with my dad anymore, because after I got in trouble at school, this is what we usually hear. After I got in trouble at school, he took my phone. This is like the thing, right? And mom
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Lets me
Susan Reff: Have it and mom lets me have my phone. Twenty four seven. And it’s it’s it’s like a teenage thing. You know, these that kids have. They’re stubborn and they don’t want to see that parent, but they’ve they’ve escalated it.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I just saw on TikTok it shows a kid walking on a treadmill, and the mom says, every time my kid wants to watch cartoons, I make him walk on the treadmill while he’s watching. So there’s the iPad on the treadmill and then it says, And my kids walk 16 miles today, and that’s a eight year old on this treadmill.
Susan Reff: That’s a great idea. So I saw we live right by, you know, one of the high schools and I was getting gas and the the cross country team runs, you know, and you can tell it’s like a gaggle of like 14 to 17 year old boys. They run up to a stoplight and they have to stop because the stoplight doesn’t, you know, it’s red or whatever. Half of them whip out a phone from their pocket and they’re like looking at their phone well. And you know how people, when they run, they do that like little jog in place to keep, I don’t know, keep their heart rate up or whatever they’re doing that they’re looking at their phone and there’s one kid.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: It’s just like the treadmill on tick tock.
Susan Reff: There was, I’m like, Oh my God, you, you can’t even go for a run and not get on your phone. I did wonder if maybe they were using some sort of running app where they had to like, pause it or I don’t
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Know, that’s called giving them the benefit of the doubt,
Susan Reff: Which I’m going to
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Do. But I did appreciate your use of the word gaggle, I think is that for duck? Mostly.
Susan Reff: Geese. Geese, I don’t know what a group of ducks is called.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Probably also a gaggle. I really like those words to identify different groups of things.
Susan Reff: So a grouping of 10 14 to 17 year old boys.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Has been a big spike. It has been identified by Susan as a gaggle cagle. Yeah.
Susan Reff: So yeah, I mean, a lot of times what precipitates these interventions by therapists is probably normal teenage stress and. Normal reactions to kids when their parents split up. I think but then they like they like, escalate something about the one parent.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I think a lot of what I see in cases too, as far as teenagers go, is if one parent has started a new relationship that can be really shocking for, you know, a teenage child to wrap their mind around. It is true that in a lot of divorce cases, people are starting relationships before their divorce is final. Not surprising what freely? This is not news to you,
Susan Reff: But it’s news, I think, to to people that don’t do what we do.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes, yes. So a therapist, if a therapist is involved, they’re likely their job in our mind is to give some recommendations to the court so a judge can listen to what has the therapist worked with that child in treatment? And does the therapist have any sort of input to give to the judge? And another alternative. Often when we have younger children, maybe they’re not in therapy for whatever reason. We will ask the court to appoint what’s called a guardian ad litem,
Susan Reff: Which doesn’t mean then that person is the child’s guardian. Yes, it’s it’s like fancy lingo for lawyer for kids.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes. And there’s some technicalities between a difference of a lawyer for a child and a guardian ad litem for a child. But in Nebraska, a guardian ad litem typically is another lawyer that gets appointed in order to help the judge determine what’s in the best interests of the child. So they are literally tasked with doing an investigation.
Susan Reff: And in my experience, I’ve been a guardian ad litem in lots of cases, and in my case, I mean, it goes one of two ways. Most of the time the judge has, you write a report that goes to both lawyers like mom’s lawyer, dad’s lawyer. And then you’re done because I think the the majority of the time those lawyers know like, OK, well, if the guardian ad litem, their opinion is this, that’s what the judge is going to do. So why go to trial and muck up the waters and make it
Tracy Hightower-Henne: All so it induces settlement? Yes. Like induces labor, because I didn’t know if the word induced was correct, but it induces settlement.
Susan Reff: I think that’s a good
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Promote
Susan Reff: Settlement. Yes, it helps. But there’s cases, too, where as guardian ad litem or I’ve been on cases where the guardian ad litem actually testifies in the trial too.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. Maybe because one parent doesn’t like what their report says or not.
Susan Reff: So the attorneys then can cross examine the guardian ad litem. Like, How did you come to your conclusion? You know, what are you basing it on?
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So what types of things did you have to do as a guardian ad litem?
Susan Reff: So what I always do first is I try to meet with each parent, just the parents like, you know, meet with the mom, meet with the dad that could be on the phone, it can be in person, just get their take on what’s going on in the background. I ask them what their child is like. You know what they’re interested in? You know, what do they think their child is going to say to me? What do you think? What is their child know about the divorce case? Because sometimes kids don’t know very much, and sometimes they know way too much.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: So, so then you’re asking the parent, What do you think child’s going to say to you? And that parent says exactly word for word what the child says. And that’s like the big red coaching flag.
Susan Reff: Right after I meet with the parent parents, then I meet with the kid, kid or kids and I I all, if the parents are already separated, I always meet with the kids at both parents house because it’s amazing that the kid will tell you what that parent wants you to hear when they’re in that parent’s house. Yeah. Also, you potentially should talk to school babysitters daycares if the child has a therapist, talk to the therapist many times. When I’ve been guardian ad litem, I’m making a recommendation for joint custody, even though one parent is pushing pretty hard for sole custody with them.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: And so that’s a good alternative to potentially asking the judge to literally listen to the kids in court testifying right. So we have therapists as an alternative coming to testify, a guardian ad litem being appointed and giving a recommendation. Because those are the types of things that we really want to look at is how can we keep the kid out of testifying in court?
Susan Reff: Right. And when I am guardian ad litem, if the child says to me, I really only want to live with my dad, you know, and I ask the why, and I get into that, that doesn’t mean that’s what I’m going to recommend to the judge, just because the kids said it, even if it sounds very reasonable. But I will make sure that my report tells everyone that that is what the child has told me. It’s not a secret what the kid has told me so that everyone is aware of what the child is telling me. But as guardian ad litem, it’s your job to testify to what you think is in the best interest of the child.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: And ultimately, the judge’s decision has to be founded on the best interests of the child. Right? That’s the big grand boilerplate language that. Is the end result,
Susan Reff: So if a child is going to testify because, you know, the lawyer has decided they think it would be helpful to their case. And when we do it, we we meet with the child ahead of time, talk to them to base our opinion. You know, can this child, you know, tell a good story? Do they seem to know the difference between the truth and a lie? That’s that’s a big one, right? Wait, do
Tracy Hightower-Henne: All adults know that?
Susan Reff: And it’s so funny because what the judges do, you know? You know, Joey, if I told you the sky was green, would that be the truth or would that be a lie? And the kid’s like 17.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, every judge and I think so judges don’t want to have kids testify. I think that’s pretty clear across the board that judges think that our job is to either figure out an alternative or to, you know, magically be able to come to an agreement between the two attorneys without having the kids testify. So if we ultimately come down to this, we don’t have an alternative. The kid’s going to testify. We first have to ask permission of the judge to allow the kid to testify, right?
Susan Reff: Yeah. And so we would we would file a motion to allow the child to testify in the judge’s chambers, and that would eliminate the child testifying in front of either parent.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. So the so logistically, the parents are not in front of the child. The child’s not sitting in the witness chair, looking at the parents in court, saying, I want to live with dad and mom’s sitting there, you know, crying and sad. So have you had kids testify in chambers?
Susan Reff: I have. I have. It’s happened two ways in my experience, and I think this is pretty standard. Either the judge has them in and it’s just the judge and the kids and the court reporter. Nobody else that seems to be when the kids are a little bit older. And then I’ve had it where I’m in in the judge’s office, and so is the other lawyer. And no end the kid and the court reporter. So no, no parents in the room, nobody else but the lawyers. And when the lawyers are in there, they’re not talking. You know, the judge is doing all the talking with the kids.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I’ve had I’ve never had a case where I’m not in the judge’s chambers when the kids are testifying and it’s been with a handful of different judges. But it always happens where the judges ask the lawyers ahead of time for a list of questions. They’d like the judge to ask the kids. They never ask any of those questions, though. They just have a conversation with the kid and they tell the lawyers, You’re going to sit on that couch behind the kids and I don’t want them to see you, and you don’t want you to say anything as if, like, the kids are going to forget that we’re sitting there in the room. And I remember one judge has a love seat in the chambers. And so here I am, sitting on this love seat with the opposing counsel, you know, and this love seat is very deep. So you’re like, really? Lounged back and you’re also trying to take notes and you’re sitting next to this opposing counsel, which ultimately, if the kids are testifying, it’s probably a pretty contentious case. So here you are sitting next to opposing counsel in the super deep love seat, trying not to move or say anything because the judge thinks that the kids are going to forget, you’re in there. And then the judge just has the conversation with the kids, and it’s very, very weird and bizarre and awkward.
Susan Reff: Yeah, I I feel like the couch is in the judge’s office aren’t meant for the lawyers to be sitting on. No. There were there
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Were many pillows on this love seat, too that had like had to be moved. It was it was very funny. And I think judges try really hard to do a good job of making kids feel comfortable if in that moment they’re going to have to testify. But I really think that oftentimes judges don’t take into consideration a lot of what kids say in testimony, and it can be really scarring for a child to look back, you know, as an adult about that moment in testifying.
Susan Reff: So on that point, I had a case where both kids were going to testify, but only one felt really strongly and the other one was just going to testify. You know, I’m fine. I like both my parents, you know, but the judge, the judge was like, if one is going to testify, I’m going to hear from both of them. And in her chambers before the trial started, the judge was like, I just don’t really feel super comfortable having having the kids testify because if I ultimately decide differently than what they tell me, then they’re going to blame themselves and they’re going to say, Well, if I were to testify differently, I would have gotten what I wanted. My response to that is, I think you’re giving kids way too much credit because kids don’t ever blame themselves for anything they’ve done wrong. They blame everyone else. I mean, I think that’s interesting, though that’s very common sense to what the judge said, but I don’t know if that’s true.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: I do think, though, that that is something that kids might have to work through in therapy as adults, right? Looking back on that, yeah, but I think that’s that just goes to show, you know, if as a total wrap up to this conversation is we’re going to do a lot of what we can to try to avoid having kids testify because the judges want us to do what we can to have the. Kids avoid testifying, so in that first consultation call from a client that says my kids want to testify, they want to. They’re old enough to decide. A lot of that initial conversation is, well, there’s a lot of different things that can happen before we even potentially get to that discussion.
Susan Reff: Yeah, I don’t ever want the kid to be the strongest piece of evidence that I have in a case. So we’re we’re working with the other pieces of evidence to see if we can get to a different resolution than, you know, relying on the child testifying to win the case.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. So I think the lesson here is there’s no magic age for kids to testify. So whatever Google and Jeeves are telling you is wrong
Susan Reff: Or your neighbor.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes. And whatever happened in Plumber Joe Neighbor Plumber Joe’s divorce is not relevant to your case. Don’t forget that. So if his 17 year old testified in court and now lives with him full time, that’s that has no bearing on what’s going to happen in your case
Susan Reff: As that that’s always our advice, no matter what topic we’re talking about. Whatever happened in your friend’s case is probably not going
Tracy Hightower-Henne: To happen, and we’re assuming your friend is plumber Joe. Right? So obviously, you know, talk to an experienced attorney about whether it’s appropriate or relevant for your kid to potentially testify in court and what other alternatives are out there.
Susan Reff: And if you are in the process of divorce and you think that this is going to be needed in your case? Talk about it right away. Yes. Don’t bring it up the day before trial
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Or the morning of trial and bring your kid Johnny’s here to testify and you’re like, No,
Susan Reff: That’s not how it works.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, so all right. Well, so next time pink hair might be gone, pink zits might be gone, and we’ll have a different color topic.
Susan Reff: Hopefully good for both of us. Yes? All right. See you. Bye bye.
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