Divorce can be hard on even the most mentally and emotionally healthy adults. The toll that it takes on children is often difficult for the adults in their lives to truly understand. Sometimes this is because the adults are so close to the situation themselves. Emotions in divorces and child custody cases can run high if the case is contentious, clouding sound judgment. It’s not uncommon for parents and state employees to have varying opinions about what is best for a child in these situations. If this happens in your divorce or custody case, the court may appoint a minor’s counsel. You may not think your child needs a lawyer, but the judge relies on a minor’s counsel in some cases to determine what is best for the child.
Does My Child Really Need a Minor’s Counsel?
California family court judges are permitted by law to assign a minor’s counsel to any case involving child custody or visitation, which includes divorce cases. However, a child doesn’t need their own lawyer in most cases. If parents can keep their circumstances free of many conflicts and reach an agreement independently or show the court what is in the best interest of their child regarding custody and visitation, the judge won’t need to appoint a minor’s counsel. It’s common for one to be assigned if the court feels that one parent is prioritizing their needs over their child’s needs.
A minor’s counsel may be assigned under California court rules if:
- High conflict or extended legal history exists between the parents
- The circumstances are causing the child stress
- The judge has information that the child’s best interests are not likely being presented by either parent
- Claims of child abuse or neglect exist
- One or both parents could be incapable of providing the child with a safe, stable, and secure environment
- Special issues exist that a minor’s counsel could provide the court insight
- For whatever reason, the judge believes independent representation is best for the child
If the case involves more than one child, it’s possible that they may be assigned different lawyers to protect both of their interests.
Who Decides if a Minor’s Counsel is Necessary?
Parents don’t get to decide if their child needs or is assigned a minor’s counsel—only the judge assigned to the case can do that. However, a minor’s counsel can be requested by either one of the child’s parents or their respective attorneys. Other parties who can make such a request include:
- The child involved
- Another relative on that child’s behalf
- A mediator
- Attorneys or prosecutors in an abuse, neglect, or child abduction case
- Professionals making custody recommendations to the court
If the family court judge appoints a minor’s counsel in your case, your child must talk to them. You cannot interfere with or impede the minor’s counsel. To the best of your ability, you should encourage your child to speak with their attorney and cooperate in whatever ways possible. Any action to prevent the minor’s counsel from effectively doing their job will backfire and make you look unfit as a parent in court. Even worse, it could decrease the chances that the case will work out favorably for you.
What Will the Minor’s Counsel Do?
A minor’s counsel aims to bring to light any information or evidence that the court might never find out about otherwise. First, the child’s lawyer will investigate child-related facts in the case. They are particularly interested in finding facts that impact the child, as they will be their voice to the court. To accomplish this, they will:
- Speak with the child directly without either parents’ presence
- Interview doctors, teachers, and therapists
- Review school records such as report cards and any disciplinary records
- Examine medical records
- Request physical and psychological evaluations
Once their investigation process is complete, the minor’s counsel will provide a report to the judge. The report may discuss the child’s care, health, safety, and well-being. The lawyer will also express their fact-based opinion concerning what is in the child’s best interest under the circumstances. Judges rely heavily on these reports when there are custody disputes between parents as the minor’s counsel has a more complete look into the child’s life and is a neutral party.
A minor’s counsel is also charged with expressing the child’s opinion regarding custody and visitation to the court. The attorney cannot advocate to the court for the child’s wishes to be met since they are to remain neutral, but they should convey the child’s preferences to the court. This prevents the child from having to speak directly to the judge or in front of either parent, which could be traumatic and lead to further contentions.
Seek Help from a Child Custody Attorney
If you are going through a child custody case in California, you are likely under extreme stress. By hiring a child custody attorney, you can better understand the laws and requirements in your case. They will also be an advocate for your interests and will provide you with the best outcome possible.