It is well known that legal lingo is not often the same as plain old English. If you are involved in a contested child custody case, either a divorce, post divorce, paternity, or third party custody action, you may have heard of what is called an “in camera” interview. Contrary to the plain meaning of the phrase, no cameras are actually used.
An in camera interview is actually a meeting with the judge and the child, or children, of a custody matter, in the judge’s office (chambers) with no attorneys or parents present. In fact, the court is under no duty to record the interview and make it a part of the record, though it may record it if the court so chooses.
According to Indiana Code § 31-17-2-91:
(a) The court may interview the child in chambers to ascertain the child's wishes.
(b) The court may permit counsel to be present at the interview. If counsel is present:
(1) a record may be made of the interview; and
(2) the interview may be made part of the record for purposes of appeal.
An in camera interview provides the child, or children, with an opportunity to express his or her feelings about living with one or another parent, or the time they spend with each parent. The interview allows the trial judge an alternative option, than just listening to the parents and attorneys argue, and may be used instead of, or in conjunction with, a custody evaluation or Guardian Ad Litem report, to help a judge in making a custodial determination, while at the same time preventing a child from being placed in the middle of an adversarial and potentially hostile in court battleground, where they may not understand what is going on or court room procedures.
Some judges will always conduct in camera interviews with the children of a pending custody matter because they just like to get a feel for the children in the case, so that they can make a good custodial decision. Other judges will only grant in camera interviews if they feel it is truly necessary in a case, and will make the determination to have, or not have, and interview based on the facts before them. And still other judges will never grant in camera interviews, and this may be because they feel that the experience may be intimidating to a child, or that a psychologist or other social worker is better trained to speak to the children, and then report back to the judge. Ultimately, whether or not a judge conducts (or grants a request to conduct) an in camera interview is completely within the judge’s discretion to do or not do.
If the judge does want to have an in camera interview with a child, as a parent, guardian, or custodian, it is important to never coach the child, or question the child about what happened in the interview. The interview should be an opportunity for the child to express his or her feelings openly, and without recourse. In fact, as a general rule, it is best not involve the child in the dispute, as this is very stressful for a child, and hard to process adult problems.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in understanding some legal lingo and what it means for your custody case. Every case is different, and it is recommended that you consult an attorney to determine the best course of action to achieve your goals in your specific case. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori Schmeltzer.