Can Children Have Their Own Attorneys in Family Law Matters?
Contentious family law matters — such as child custody and visitation issues — typically are resolved by a child’s parents, their attorneys, and the court. While older children’s wishes may be taken into consideration when determining custody and visitation, that is merely one factor among many that the court considers, and younger children generally have no say at all. Children in California are not entitled to their own attorneys, but in some cases, their interests may be represented by a minor’s counsel, as our Stockton child visitation lawyers explain.
What Is a Minor’s Counsel?
Minors are rarely allowed to testify or present evidence to the court in family law matters. As such, family law courts may appoint a minor’s counsel to take on that role on behalf of the child. While a minor’s counsel may take a child’s custodial preferences into account, he or she does not necessarily advocate for the child’s wishes. Rather, the minor’s counsel’s role is to serve as a neutral party who advocates for the best interests of the child.
Why Would a Minor Need Counsel?
Minors’ counsel is not necessary in every divorce case — only those that raise certain issues that could be detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of a child. Courts typically consider the appointment of minors’ counsel in the following cases:
- The issues of child custody or visitation are highly contested or protracted
- The child is subject to stress
- Minor’s counsel could provide the court with relevant information not otherwise likely to be presented
- The dispute involves allegations of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect of the child
- One or both parents are incapable of providing a stable, safe, and secure environment
- The best interests of the child require it
Minors’ counsel must be licensed attorneys and are required to undergo annual continuing legal education to be eligible to serve in that role.
Duties of a Minor’s Counsel
A large part of a minor’s counsel’s role is dedicated to fact-finding. Minors’ counsel has the right to access and interview the children they represent, as well as access to their health and education records. They may also interview the child’s friends, family, teachers, healthcare providers, and anyone else who may have relevant information. At the conclusion of the fact-finding process, minors’ counsel’s duties are very similar to those of other attorneys — e.g., appearing at court proceedings and arguing on behalf of the child’s best interests, including by filing briefs and motions, submitting evidence, and examining and cross-examining witnesses.
How Minor’s Counsel Are Appointed
There are two avenues by which a minor’s counsel may be appointed: by the court itself or by request of the child, the parties to the proceeding, a party’s attorney, or certain other individuals with an interest in the case.
Talk to a Stockton Child Visitation Lawyer to See if a Minor’s Counsel Is Right for Your Case
Minor’s counsel can be invaluable resources for determining what is truly in a child’s best interest. If you are considering seeking a minor’s counsel, please contact a Stockton child visitation lawyer at McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau to discuss your case by using our online form or calling us at 209-477-8171.