As a parent, you may think you always act in your child’s best interest, but high-conflict divorce or custody emotions can cloud judgment.
Sometimes, differing views on what’s best for your child arise, leading the court to get a lawyer for a minor to assist the judge, even if you disagree.
When Can a Minor Get A Lawyer in a Divorce or Custody Case?
Not every case mandates a minor to get a lawyer. In low-conflict scenarios, parents can usually reach agreements aligned with their children’s well-being.
But in high-risk situations, such as domestic violence, one parent may prioritize themselves over the child, warranting the appointment of minor’s counsel.
A minor’s lawyer may be suitable according in the following situations:
- High conflict or prolonged legal disputes between parents.
- When the dispute is causing stress to the child.
- Availability of information regarding the child’s best interests unlikely to be presented by either parent.
- Allegations of child abuse or neglect.
- When one or both parents may be unable to provide a stable, safe, and secure environment for the child.
- Existence of special issues where minor’s counsel can offer valuable insights to the court.
- When the court deems independent representation to be the most appropriate course of action.
A minor can get a lawyer if requested by parents, their attorneys, the child, a relative representing the child, mediators, attorneys, or prosecutors in abuse, neglect, or abduction cases, and certain professionals making custody recommendations to the court.
A family law judge can also independently appoint a minor’s lawyer.
When multiple children are involved, the court may assign separate attorneys if their interests differ.
What Does a Minor’s Lawyer Do?
In family court, custody and visitation decisions rely on presented evidence.
The evidence’s scope depends on parents’ priorities and attorney access, often with some information kept confidential.
Minor’s counsel helps by revealing otherwise overlooked information and evidence for the court’s consideration.
Investigate Child-Related Facts
Once appointed, the minor’s lawyer serves as a child’s impartial fact finder until the child turns 18 or the court terminates their appointment.
They act independently, free from either parent’s influence.
Minor’s counsel helps the judge by gathering information that might not reach the court, including:
- Speaking directly with the child (without parents present).
- Interviewing teachers, doctors, and therapists.
- Reviewing school records like report cards and disciplinary records.
- Accessing medical records.
- Requesting relevant physical and psychological examinations for the minor.
Provide Fact Finding Reports to the Judge
Judges often place significant importance on the reports from the minor’s lawyer due to their access to a comprehensive view of the child’s life.
Once the investigation is finished, minor’s counsel prepares a report for the judge, addressing concerns about the child’s care, health, safety, and expressing their opinion on the child’s best interests.
This report carries substantial weight in resolving parental custody disputes.
Express a Child’s Preference to the Court
Family law judges consider a child’s preference in custody and visitation decisions if the child is old enough to make an informed choice.
However, it’s rare for a child to testify in court due to potential stress or trauma.
In such cases, the minor’s lawyer can privately discuss the child’s preferences and convey them to the court while safeguarding the child’s rights and parent-child relationships.
The minor’s lawyer remains impartial and doesn’t solely advocate for the child’s preference.
They provide recommendations based on the overall circumstances, not just the child’s wishes.
It’s unwise for parents to infer a child’s preferences from minor’s counsel’s statements in court.
Should You Request Appointment of Minor’s Counsel for Your Children?
Deciding if your child needs their own lawyer is tough. Typically, parents cover minor’s counsel fees, with the court deciding how to split costs.
Before requesting an appointment, consider the added legal expenses.
While you may think it adds an advocate on your side, minor’s counsel remains independent.
They owe you no obligation, and any role you played in your child’s difficulties may be revealed.
Consult your family lawyer about potential drawbacks and be transparent about any negative feedback from the child or professionals.
Despite potential risks, in high-conflict custody battles, appointing minor’s counsel can alleviate stress for your child and ensure their needs are addressed, especially when proof is challenging.