What is a judicial interview?
A “Judicial interview of children” in the context of Singapore family law is where the judge interviews the child(ren) of parties involved in a matrimonial dispute.
The court has the discretion to interview the child based on the circumstances and facts of the case. A judge may choose to interview the child even without an application being made by either parent if it is determined to be beneficial for the child’s welfare.
- The judge may choose to interview the child(ren).
- This process allows the child to communicate directly with the judge.
- It is important to note that there some limitations to this porcess
A judge may choose to interview the child even without an application being made by either parent.
Why would it be necessary or useful?
In considering this matter, the Singapore courts have acknowledged research that when children are given a voice in divorce proceedings, it is often more beneficial for the parties and the children. (AZB v AZC  SGHCF 1)
Further, this process will allow the child to communicate what they had experienced or perceived directly to the judge. This also lends itself to better insight as to what the child desires, or/ and what would be best for them. The court in AZB v AZC also cited research showing that this leads to more durable agreements, more amicable co-parenting, and improved parent-child relations.
There are particular instances where the child is mature enough to express their viewpoints and wish to contribute to these matters which will have a great impact on their lives. In such cases, it is even more important to enable them to do so via a process such as a judicial interview.
What are the concerns that arise in the judicial interview of children?
Even though there are many benefits to the judicial interview, it is important to also recognise the limitations of this process. Some concerns that have been brought up by the court are as follows:
- Communication with children requires more consideration of their circumstances and body language. It is also important to reassure the child that their view is heard and respected. However, the judge is not professionally trained to communicate with and establish the views of the child.
- The formal environment of the court might cause discomfort to the child. This may be compounded by the limited time the judge has to form a relationship of trust with the child, and might be difficult for the child to feel safe enough to share candidly.
- Parents may pressure the children to mention or share certain views beneficial to them. The contents of the judicial interview might not be strictly confidential, and thus this might affect the reliability and effectiveness of the judicial interview.
- In speaking to the judge, the child might be brought into the acrimonious proceedings. This was however doubted by Debbie Ong JC who expressed the view that the child would already have been exposed to the tensions between their parents, and that this interview might present hope of reliving the ongoing tensions.
What are some guidelines that the court has put in place in view of these concerns?
The following are some guidelines that were quoted by the court:
- To ask open-ended questions and avoid leading questions which may cause the children to choose between their parents
- Consider the age and maturity of the child
- Consider whether the child had asked to speak to the Judge or was pressured by a parent to do so
- To listen to the child as much as possible, being sensitive to signs of loyalty conflicts, guilt for the parents’ separation or alienation from the other parent
- To be aware of the limitations and thus give the appropriate weight to the views expressed in judicial conversations with the child
Ultimately, the most important consideration is the welfare of the child. In cases where the limitations outweigh the benefits of the process, the court retains the discretion to make the decision it thinks will be best for the child. Other alternatives are also available in the form of a Child Representative or a mental health professional.