Senator Leyva Introduces “Giving Children a Voice Act”

SB 170 Would Allow Children 10 and Older to Testify in Court

Monday, January 23, 2017

SACRAMENTO – Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) today introduced important legislation to allow a child who is 10 years of age or older to address the court regarding their own custody or visitation, if the child wishes to do so.

Co-sponsored by the California Protective Parents Association and the Center for Judicial Excellence, SB 170 would lower the current age threshold from 14 to 10 years of age at which children are allowed—if they so desire—to testify in family court during custody or visitation proceedings.  Despite the direct impact of these decisions, children are not parties to these cases and are not always permitted to address the court about their wishes. In response to concerns that children's wishes were being shut out of the family law process, the Governor signed AB 1050 (Ma) in 2010 to allow children 14 years of age or older to testify in their parents’ custody or visitation proceedings, unless the court determined that doing so was not in the child’s best interest.  Neither existing law nor SB 170 would require a child to address the court unless he or she chooses to do so.

Allowing teenagers to speak to the court has been extremely helpful to those who have requested it since AB 1050 was enacted.  Rules of court are in place that allow for confidential questioning of a child in the judge’s chambers with a court reporter present, in order to protect the best interests of the child.  Other courts are more open to children’s testimony and consider it a vital part of decision-making. California juvenile courts permit children aged 10 or older to speak directly to the court and children as young as 4 are permitted to testify in criminal court.

“SB 170, if approved, will be an important child safety measure to enable more children—some of whom may be in dangerous home environments—to address the court and be protected from harm,” Senator Leyva said.  “As a family court makes critical life decisions for children, it makes sense for them to be granted a greater voice in court proceedings since they can contribute essential information before final decisions are made.”

SB 170 will be eligible to be considered in Senate policy committee(s) later this spring.