Proposed bill would let younger children speak in child custody cases

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) — A bill is set to be passed in the West Virginia House of Delegates to change when a child can talk and give a preferred outcome in a custody case.

A proposed bill in the West Virginia House of Delegates would allow a child of any age to give a preference in a custody case.

The proposal by Delegate Geoff Foster would allow a child of any age to speak in a hearing if the judge believes they are mature enough. Currently, the child must be at least 14 years old to even be considered fit.

"We've got an arbitrary number in our family court system that says basically a child's opinion doesn't matter whether the judge thinks they are of sufficient mindset of maturity to make a relevant decision," Foster said.

The bill would allow a child more options in a tough situation, Foster said. Most often, a child wants to spend as much time with both parents as possible.

"Children do best when they have contact with both parents," psychologist Dr. Timothy Saar said. "Very young children need to have very frequent contact going back and forth. Older children can do a little bit better with longer times between visitation. But it is important that there is communication between the children and both sets of parents."

Saar said this bill could put a child in a tough situation of picking between a mother and father, but could be beneficial if the child is emotionally mature enough.

"That's a lot of pressure for a child to have. I think a child can have a preference, and a child can be closer to one parent than another, but the reasons might not always be in the child's best interest," Saar said. "If one parent is more lenient or more tolerant of misbehavior, then the child might want to go with that parent and that might not be in the child's best interest."

The bill has been passed to its third reading on the House floor on Wednesday before a vote. Similar versions of this bill have passed the House in recent years but were not brought up for a vote in the Senate.