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Pennsylvania Bar Association Video Offers Insights on Courtroom Interviews of Children in Custody Cases

HARRISBURG (July 8, 2014) – A first-of-its-kind educational tool is now available to help Pennsylvania Family Court judges, lawyers and families reduce the anxiety caused by the courtroom interviews of children at the center of custody disputes.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section has produced a 73-minute video program, “Judicial Interview of the Child,” that will be distributed statewide to family court judges and posted on YouTube next week. The video is being premiered to PBA Family Law Section members on Friday morning, July 11, during the section’s summer conference in Cambridge, Maryland.

"Given the enormous impact that courtroom interviews have on children, it is surprising that, to this point, there were no educational tools to guide all of the custody participants, including parents, lawyers and judges," said Dan Clifford, chair of the PBA Family Law Section, who spearheaded the project.

"Imagine the anxiety of a child who has to enter a courtroom, walk past his or her parents and face a judge that the child has never met before,” said Clifford. “A major goal of the video program is to offer guidance to Family Court judges, often new to the bench, on how to put children at ease during courtroom interviews when important custody decisions are being made. It also demonstrates to parents what’s in store for their children during these interviews."

The video includes two mock interviews between judges and child actors. There also are interviews with the following judges, who have more than 100 years of combined judicial experience, who represent the leadership of Pennsylvania’s Family Courts and who are known for their skills in talking with children:

  • Senior Judge John L. Braxton, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas
  • President Judge Thomas J. Doerr, Butler County Court of Common Pleas
  • Judge Barry C. Dozor, Delaware County Court of Common Pleas
  • Judge Kim D. Eaton, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas
  • Judge Holly J. Ford, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas
  • President Judge Thomas King Kistler, Centre County Court of Common Pleas
  • Judge Katherine B.L. Platt, Chester County Court of Common Pleas
  • Judge Kelly C. Wall, Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas

Carolyn Moran Zack, Chester County Court of Common Pleas’ Family Masters Unit appears in the video to provide some of the legal criteria involved in the interviews of children.

Ann M. Funge of Philadelphia served as director and Clifford served as producer of the project.

Mailed along with the videos will be written support materials, including findings of a survey completed more than 150 judges across the state. Family Law Section member Christina M. DeMatteo of Blue Bell compiled and analyzed the survey results.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section focuses on the development and practical working of laws related to marriage, divorce, non-support and domestic relations, as well as laws related to adoption and to juvenile delinquency.

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 27,000 lawyers who are members of the association.

Editor’s note: The "Judicial Interview of a Child" video program can be found at this web address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRZDfziqe7Y. Additional information can be found on the PBA Family Law Section’s webpages: http://www.pabar.org/public/sections/fam05/