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Best Interest of Children

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Ohio and many other states provide a process whereby children may be interviewed by a judge or magistrate in matters involving issues of parental rights and responsibilities. Courts, in resolving litigation, may consider the wishes of children in determining their best interest. The Ohio statute providing for the interview is silent as to whether parents have a right to obtain a copy of the transcript of the interview. Ohio courts have not been uniform in their answer to the question of confidentiality of the transcript.

Laurel G. Stein, a Cleveland attorney authored an article for publication in the Domestic Relations Journal of Ohio which examined the decisions in various Ohio courts on the issue of transcript confidentiality. Despite the disparity of the decisions, the courts all agreed that while there must be a balancing of the best interest of children with parents procedural rights, the integrity of the interview must be preserved.

Mrs Stein's article notes a recent Licking County, Ohio case known as Lawson v Lawson in which a reviewing court held that mother could not have access to the interview transcript which had been sealed by the trial court. Mother's argument that her due process rights were violated by denying her access to the transcript was rejected. Children must be allowed to feel safe and comfortable when expressing their feelings honestly without any psychological trauma or loyalty conflicts. If children are aware that their parents will see the transcript, they are less likely to be candid with the judge or magistrate. The best interest of children is primary even though it might conflict with the due process rights of parents.

Mrs Stein also cited a case from Meigs County, Ohio known as Inscoe v Inscoe, where the court allowed father to obtain a copy of the interview transcript. The court reasoned that without a transcript a parent could not effectively challenge a determination of the parenting issue which was, at least, partially based on the interview with the child.

The majority view point, Mrs Stein reports, is that the transcript must be kept confidential to best protect children in parental disputes. It will take either the Supreme Court of Ohio or the Ohio Legislature to resolve the dispute.



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