Minor’s counsel must act in the best interests of the child and represents only the child. Their role is to consider the best interests of the child without being bound by the emotions that often come with contested child custody cases.
Minor’s counsel acts as neutral voice for the child. They do not prefer one parent over another and they do not act on behalf of either or both parents.
In California child custody cases, minors are rarely allowed to testify in court or speak with the Judge directly. Only in very rare circumstances does this occur. But, children have a right to be heard and therefore, Judge’s will often appoint minor’s counsel to interview a child about their concerns and preferences as it relates to custody.
What happens if there is more than one child in a particular case? Typically, one attorney can represent more than one child in a family, but only if the children do not have competing interests. For example, if there is a concern that one child may actually be abusing the other, then the court will likely appoint separate counsel for each child. The court will typically require each parent to share in the cost of minor’s counsel and/or require one parent to pay solely if the other parent has no ability to pay. In some circumstances, the county will help pay for representation of the child. Once minor’s counsel is appointed by the court, the attorney is expected to represent the child until the child is 18 years old, unless the court relieves counsel prior to that.
It may be difficult to understand what minor’s counsel actually does once appointed. In general, they are a finder of fact. Minor’s counsel will gather information from various interview with people involved in the child’s life. For example, the parents, teachers, doctors, therapists, etc. The parents are expected to sign releases so that minor’s counsel has relatively easy access to these individuals. Through this process, minor’s counsel is to determine what in the best interests of the child’s health, safety and well-being and to communicate that information to the court. It is very important to note that minor’s counsel is not appointed to simply represent and repeat what the child wants per se, to the court. While that is taken into consideration, overall minor’s counsel represents what is in the best interests of the child, even if that may be contrary to what the child actually desires.
There are specific considerations that may come up in cases where minor’s counsel is appointed, especially as one of the parents of a child that has minor’s counsel.