Family Law

Courts in New Jersey to Try Harder to Include Children in Custody Hearings

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When it comes to custody or placement arrangements, no one knows better than the child concerned what he or she wants.

And children over 10, in particular, are capable of expressing their views in an intelligent and helpful manner and should be given a chance to do so in court proceedings, according to a New Jersey state law. However, that rarely happens, reports the Star-Ledger.

Those involved in the juvenile system are trying to make such interactions more routine, and a new report by Advocates for Children says including the subjects of court hearings as participants can lead to better decisions based on more complete information.

One family court judge in Essex County, recalls Mary Coogan, used to ask for a photo to be attached to each file so that he would be reminded of the real children at issue in the cases. She is the group’s assistant director and a co-author of the report.

Wendy Logan, now a 25-year-old graduate student in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, is still bitter about waiting outside a courtroom to no avail, at age 13, in an effort to explain to a Camden County judge why she didn’t want to be with her drug-addicted mom. She also put her views down in a letter, but doubts the judge read it.

“Nobody ever heard me or asked me to come into court or asked my opinions. I felt really devastated,” she tells the newspaper. “It hurt to know a judge just threw it into the trash and didn’t want to put a face to the name. I will always be that child waiting outside that courtroom.”

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