Since the Children’s Referendum in 2012, Courts have been directed to hear and consider the views of children. In terms of children – in custody and access cases in the District Court, or Divorce/Separation in the Circuit Court or High Court – Judges are required to consider the views of the children. An exception to this is if the child is not old enough or not capable of expressing their views.
There are different ways a Judge can hear the voice of the child:
SECTION 47 REPORT
The Judge can order a Section 47 Report – from a Child Psychologist. This reports is to bring the children’s wishes and views to the attention of the Judge. A child psychologist will meet with the children and parents. They will also talk to any other interested parties like social workers or extended family. The report usually makes recommendations on access and custody. These reports will seek to balance the views expressed by the child, with what the psychologist deems is in their best interest. It is worth bearing in mind that these reports will ultimately be based on the opinion of the report writer. The Psychologist will try and make the child feel as comfortable as possible in these meetings so they can get a clear idea of what the child really wants.
Section 47 Reports are more common in the Circuit Court. This is because they are usually very detailed and the Court tends to have more time to consider them.
SECTION 32 REPORT
A more common Report is the s32 Report. This is sometimes known as a “Voice of the Child” Report. This report is provided by a qualified social worker or psychologist and tries to provide the child’s opinion and views to the court. The report writer would usually meet with the parents and children on one or two occasions – often with the children alone if that can be arranged. They can also meet with extended family or others involved in the children’s lives to help assess what is in the best interest of the child. The report will often go beyond just the voice of the child and address a particular welfare issue concerning the Court or the parties.
Section 32 Reports are more common in the District Court, where the Judge directs the report to hear the child’s opinion.
JUDGES MEETING DIRECTLY WITH THE CHILD
The Judges can also speak directly with child or children if they wish. This will depend on their age, maturity and whether it would be in the child’s interests to do so. The child is asked to come to Court to meet privately with the Judge in a suitable office or the Judge’s chambers. The meeting is informal, and the Judge will always do their best to put the child at ease. In such cases, you should ensure that the meeting is before or after the usual Court hours, so they are not faced with the usual activity of court and the pressure of so many people in the building. This is to keep everything calm and relaxed for your child.
The Judge must hear the views of the child, before making judgments affecting children. You should remember that the Court’s main role in terms of children and divorce, is to decide what is in the best interest of the child. The views or wishes of the child will not always be followed if the Judge decides they are not in their best interest.