Minor’s Counsel in Orange County, California

What is Minor's Counsel?

Sometimes a minor needs their own counsel to represent their interests in court. Irwin & Irwin is experienced in handling these matters in Orange County.

Private family law attorneys are sometimes appointed to represent involved minors in family law cases, such as in high conflict divorces, cases involving child abuse or child neglect, cases related to drug usage, and in any other cases the court – in its discretion – deems appropriate. Minor’s counsel is tasked with the sole job of representing the best interests of the child – not of representing the child’s parents. Of primary concern is helping the child to clearly communicate relevant information that helps guide the court’s findings. If you’re facing a family law case in which an Orange County minor’s counsel has been assigned, it’s important to have a clearer understanding of what’s involved.

What Does a Minor’s Counsel Do?

In most California child custody cases, minors cannot directly testify or speak to the presiding judge, and as a result, the court often appoints a minor’s counsel whose job it is to interview the child and share their findings with the court. The minor’s counsel is intended to speak with a neutral voice on the child’s behalf – without pushing the child to align with one parent or the other and without compromising the child’s legal rights or emotional welfare in the process. Primarily, the minor’s counsel is tasked with ascertaining the child’s best interests outside the emotions that typically accompany challenging divorce cases, including those based on the following:

  • child neglect
  • child abuse
  • high conflict divorce
  • addiction concerns
It is important to note that the minor’s counsel represents the child alone, and if there is more than one child involved, the court may appoint each child their own minor’s counsel. If the parents cannot afford to cover the cost of the minor’s counsel, the county may cover the cost. Such an occurrence is atypical, however, and one or both parents are generally required to pay the legal fees.

Investigate Child-Related Facts

Once the minor’s counsel is appointed, they become neutral fact-finders on behalf of the child, which means they are completely independent of each parent’s perspective and preferences. As such, the minor’s counsel remains the child’s neutral voice until they turn 18 or the court ends the appointment. The primary job of the minor’s counsel is to compile information – that can elude the court but has the potential to help the presiding judge make a better-informed decision – by engaging in all the following:
  • communicating with the child directly – outside the parent or parents’ gaze
  • reviewing the child’s records as they relate to grades and disciplinary actions at school
  • interviewing the child’s teachers, therapists, and doctors
  • accessing the child’s medical records
  • requesting specific physical and psychological examinations of the child

Provide Fact-Finding Reports to the Judge

In response to the more-complete information that is accessible to the minor’s counsel, the court often takes their findings into more careful consideration. Once the minor’s counsel has completed their investigation for the court, they prepare a succinct report that highlights any concerns raised in relation to any of the following:
  • the child’s overall care
  • the child’s overall health and well-being
  • the child’s overall safety
Ultimately, the minor’s counsel advocates for the child’s best interests in relation to the case at hand.

Express a Child’s Preference to the Court

When children are considered old enough and mature enough to voice their reasonable preferences in relation to child custody cases that involve them, California courts are called upon to take such preferences into consideration. However, children rarely testify directly to the court or before judges, which is where minor’s counsels come in. in most cases, California courts deem the process of testifying before the court, their parents, and each parent’s counsel too anxiety provoking – or even traumatizing – to put a child through, and as such, they look to minor’s counsel to ascertain the preferences of the child in question and to share the information with the court as applicable.

Protect Child’s Best Interests

Each minor’s counsel is called upon to act in the best interests of the child, which involves an array of factors – not just the child’s preferences, which may or may not have any bearing on the advocacy of the minor’s counsel – that depend upon the specific circumstances involved.
In California, the minor’s counsel acts as a child advocate who bases their determinations on the involved facts.

Examples of Common Cases Involving a Child Advocate

Teachers and caregivers in California are required to report any red flags or suspicions of abuse to Children’s Protective Services (CPS), and CPS is charged with determining whether a charge of neglect or abuse is founded. CPS is stretched very thin, and too many of its social workers are swift to remove children prior to putting any effort into determining whether there is a serious concern or even a better option available. Ultimately, mental health experts agree that unwarranted child removals are traumatic for the children involved and do not comport with their best interests.
Let’s consider an example of what commonly leads to the need for a minor’s counsel:
  • A single parent with little outside support in terms of extended family or a support system works a full-time job that fails to provide them with adequate financial support for their three small children.
  • The other parent is out of the picture completely.
  • The parent’s four-year-old child receives a new age- and size-appropriate bike with training wheels for their birthday.
  • The child is getting the hang of the bike when the parent lets go to allow them to proceed on their own steam, and the child rides safely for a significant distance before they are ultimately by a deep crack in the sidewalk.
  • The child suffers bruising on their face and a cut on their hand.
  • At head start the next day, the mother fills the teacher in on the accident, but the child’s explanation later in the day is that her parent pushed her (on the bike) and hurt her.
  • The teacher calls CPS, which instigates a determination regarding whether steps to protect the child need to be taken.
From here, things can go terribly wrong. If you are facing the loss of your children, it is important to recognize that you and they have inviolable legal rights that should be protected. When a matter like the one above goes to court, the presiding judge may assign a minor’s counsel to act as a neutral third party on behalf of the child’s best interests, but it’s important also to understand your rights as a parent.

An Orange County Minor’s Counsel Can Support Your Child’s Best Interests

If you are facing a difficult child custody case or a case involving child abuse or neglect, you need trusted legal counsel to represent your parental rights, and the court may assign a minor’s counsel as a child advocate to represent your child’s rights and best interests. These are complicated matters that guide significant consequences and, as a result, require seasoned guidance.


Can any lawyer represent a child as minor’s counsel?

A parent can request that the court assign an Orange County minor’s counsel out of a specific group of qualified minor’s counsel attorneys. The court, however, must sign off on the request and must assign an attorney to the task. The court has a pool of minor’s counsel attorneys to pull from, and the court does not make random assignments, which means not just any lawyer can serve in the role of a child advocate.

Who pays the fees of minor’s counsel?

The court determines who is responsible for paying the Orange County minor’s counsel’s fees based on the evidence and circumstances at hand. If the parents can’t afford the expense, the expense may fall to the county. If the expense can be afforded by the involved parties, however, one parent – or both parents – may be charged with covering the cost.

Does the court always side with the child?

The minor’s counsel is tasked with ascertaining the best interests of the child in question. While doing so can include determining the child’s preferences, these preferences may play little or even no role in the recommendations made. Children require adult care, and therefore, their preferences – when they are mature enough to voice them – may factor into the decision-making process, but they do not guide it. While Orange County courts always side with the best interests of the child in question, the best interest is not necessarily the same thing as siding with their preferences.

Should a parent discuss the case with the child?

Parents are strongly discouraged from discussing the case at hand with the child who has been assigned a child advocate – other than explaining the basic concept in terms your child can understand and assuring them that telling the truth is the best policy, which includes letting your child know that everything they discuss with the Orange County minor’s counsel will remain between them alone.