Heavy responsibility for child representatives

Family lawyer Yap Teong Liang is one of 18 lawyers appointed by the Family Justice Courts as a child representative.
Family lawyer Yap Teong Liang is one of 18 lawyers appointed by the Family Justice Courts as a child representative.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Yap Teong Liang is one of 18 family lawyers appointed by the Family Justice Courts to be a child representative since the initiative started in October last year.

His job is to give the child a voice in court and provide the judge with an objective assessment on what arrangements are in the child's best interests. "But this does not mean that we end up listening to the child because the child may like ice cream but ice cream can be bad for him," said Mr Yap.

Instead, one of his main tasks is to understand the preferences of the child and discern if those were made under compulsion.

Some children go along with their parents' instructions or wishes as they are afraid or hope to please them, he said. Others are inclined towards the less strict parent although that arrangement may not be best for the child in the long run.

Mr Yap must piece together the information in order to make a recommendation.

In one case, the mother of two boys - aged 13 and 16 - produced a letter they had allegedly written showing that they wanted to live with her after the divorce. But the husband claimed his wife was so lax their sons were not going to school.

The younger boy wanted to live with their mother while his brother wanted to stay with their father.

Mr Yap observed the 13-year-old and his father during home visits and interviews at his office, and spoke with the boys' grandparents and school counsellors. In the end, the judge ordered the younger boy to live with the mother and the elder boy with the father.

"It is a heavy responsibility but there is satisfaction in helping children because such decisions affect their future welfare," said Mr Yap.

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Heavy responsibility for child representatives'. Print Edition | Subscribe