Tag Archives: child testimony

Child Testimony and You

Whether to use child testimony is a difficult issue to resolve between parents and attorneys involved in child custody cases. Children know more than you think and also may have an opinion. However, child testimony is discouraged in most instances…

“We reiterate that parents in a divorce proceedingimgres.jpg should if at all possible refrain from calling any of the children of their marriage, of tender years at least, as witnesses, and counsel should advise their clients against doing so except in the most exigent cases.”- Jethrow v. Jethrow

So, do the children testify or not? For Family Law cases the leading authority is Jethrow vs. Jethrow, 571 So.2d 270 (Miss. 1990). This case lays the groundwork that the Court should use when assessing child testimony. Different Courts and different Judges apply Jethrow in varying ways, but the basic premise is, as follows;

  • A child witnesses of tender years, 12 and under for testimony purposes, testifying is subject to the discretion of the Judge. 
  • Before allowing such testimony the Judge “should satisfy himself that the child has the ability to perceive and remember events, to understand and answer questions intelligently, and to comprehend and accept the importance of truthfulness.”

Before excluding the testimony of a child witness of tender years in a divorce proceeding, the chancellor at a minimum should follow the procedure required by Crownover v. Crownover, 33 Ill.App.3rd 327, 337 N.E.2d 56 (1975):

  • The first hurdle is whether the child is competent to testify.
  • The Judge should confer in camera (meaning in the Judge’s chambers/office) with the child and determine whether or not the child’s testimony should be heard
  • The Judge has considerable discretion in conducting proceedings of this type, meaning it’s the judge’s decision.
  • The court should not, however, reject outright proposed testimony of a child in custody proceedings, where the omission of such crucial testimony might be harmful to the child’s best interests.
  • The trial court should take great pains to have an in camera conference with the child to determine the competency of the child,
  • as well as the competency of any evidence which the child might present.
  • The court should also then determine whether the best interests of the child would be served by permitting her to testify, or
  • Whether the child should be sheltered from testifying and being subjected to a vigorous cross-examination.
  • The Judge should report the essential material matters developed at the in camera conference on the record.
  • The Court should state the reasons for allowing or disallowing the testimony of the child, and
  • The Court should note the factual information which the court developed from the conference with the child which would be considered by the court in its ultimate determinations in the case.

A child testifying should be avoided if at all possible.

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Child Testimony No-no; When having your child testify is the Wrong move.

Sometimes family law is the pits.

Master isolated images /freedigital photos.net

You are in the fight of your life against the one person who promised before God and everybody to always love and cherish you. Where’s the love now?

But dragging others into the fight may be the wrong move. I routinely see parents wanting to bring the kids in to testify, while stating that they do not want to bring the kids in to testify. Kind of a sorry-not sorry attitude.

Child testimony is permissible.  There are some Gate-keeping obligations of the Court to apply prior to actual testimony being allowed. There are also various methods used by various Judges on taking child testimony. However, more basic than the trustworthiness of the testimomy and whether it should be in chambers or in open Court, is whether the child should be in that position at all.

The Mississippi Supreme Court stated, “We reiterate that parents in a divorce proceeding should if at all possible refrain from calling any of the children of their marriage…as witnesses, and counsel should advise their clients against doing so except in the most exigent cases.” Jethrow v. Jethrow, 571 So. 2d 270, 274 (Miss. 1990).

If there are not exigent circumstances, i.e.; abuse, criminal activity involving the child, physically dangerous activity and there is no other means to corroborate these facts, testimony may be required, but if it’s run of the mill dad did this or didn’t do that, or dad let the girlfriend give her a makeover, or mom’s boyfriend took them to Chik-fil-a, and these persons are not dangerous persons nor prohibited from being around per a Court Order, child testimony should be avoided.

Think about it from the child’s perspective, not your own. Your job is to do what is best for them, every time.

Matthew Thompson is a Child Custody attorney and cautions you on relying on child testimony when it’s not necessary.

Follow the blog: BowTieLawyer Visit the websiteThompson Law Firm  You may also contact Matthew with your family law case, question or concern at 

(601) 850-8000  or Matthew@bowtielawyer.ms

Don’t Ask This Question.

There is a lawyer cliché to never ask a question that you do not know the answer to.

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Asking that question may get you a self-serving answer that you did not anticipate.It may open Pandora’s box of bad evidence and a tidal wave of otherwise inadmissible evidence. All because you asked a question you should not have asked.

In a custody case, the opposing counsel called the child to testify. This was a dispute between mom and dad and the other attorney wanted the child to testify about what she wanted, specifically where and with whom she wanted to live. However, opposing counsel did NOT know what the child was going to say, but instead assumed it would be favorable to his client. After the routine introductory questions, the child was specifically asked,”If you had a magic wand and you could wave it and live wherever you wanted, where would that be?” After a few seconds of silence the child responded, “ A castle!” Fatal to the case? No. But not the answer the lawyer was looking for and it further helped prove positions that we had taken throughout the case regarding the child’s emotional maturity, an issue we believed worked in our favor.

Of course, sometimes it’s a critical issue and you have to ask the question. Tread carefully.

Another question not ask; When are you due?

Matthew Thompon is a Child Custody attoreny in Mississippi and tries not to ask questions that he does not know the answer to.

Follow the blog: BowTieLawyer Visit the websiteThompson Law Firm  You may also contact Matthew with your family law case, question or concern at 

(601) 850-8000  or Matthew@bowtielawyer.ms