If you are divorcing and have a child, then what you want for your child likely plays a considerable role in just about every decision you make. However, it isn’t always necessary for a child to actually play an active role in the legal process.

For instance, when it comes to child custody matters, you should know how much your child will (or should) participate.

Your child’s role in the legal process

California courts make decisions regarding a child’s preference and whether a child will address the court on a case-by-case basis. In other words, don’t assume that input from your child will or will not play a role in family law situations. Rather, you should talk to an attorney who can help you understand what – if any – role your child may play.

Speaking generally, though, the courts will not hear from a child unless he or she is at least 14 years old and has an interest in addressing the court. However, in California, if there is a dispute over custody the court will send you to a Child Custody Recommending Counselor for mediation. Most request that a child age five or older attend the first meeting.

If a child is too young or does not have sufficient capacity to form a preference or understand what testifying in court means, he or she generally will not address the courts. If a child has no preference or if testifying is not in his or her best interests, then the courts will often find there is no benefit to addressing the court.

Your child’s role outside the legal process

Whether your child testifies in court or not, they have a role in your divorce. As a parent, you may need to find the balance between helping your child understand that he or she is a top priority and protecting your child from feeling guilty or responsible for the happiness of his or her parents.

To find this balance, think about your child’s age and what is appropriate. Keep him or her away from the legal fighting, but keep the lines of communication open so that your child feels comfortable asking questions.

And try to remember that your soon-to-be ex is always going to be your child’s parent, so finding peaceful solutions that do not disrupt your child’s relationship with either parent will be critical.