In high conflict custody matters, an attorney may be appointed to represent the minor child or children. The attorney will not be representing either parent but their role is to advocate and present evidence to the court about issues pertaining to the best interests of the child or children. This is referred to as minor’s counsel. Patricia Van Haren has completed the necessary training and is able to serve as Minor’s Counsel in cases involving minor children.
Why Would the Court Appoint a Minor’s Counsel?
There are many reasons for the court to appoint Minor’s Counsel for a child(ren). If parents significantly disagree about issues of parenting time and a child is experiencing stress, the court might appoint an attorney to represent the child in that case. Other times there may be a disagreement as to whether the child should be allowed to state which parent they want to live with and the role of minor’s counsel will be to determine whether or not the child is able to make an informed decision.
In cases where there has been extreme alienation or a parent has been absent for a significant amount of time, the Court may seek to appoint minor’s counsel. In some instances minor’s counsel may be appointed for limited issues such as whether or not it is in the best interests of the child to commence counseling or attend a certain school.
Why Should I Consider Having a Minor's Counsel?
Minor’s Counsel can play an important role in the Custody issues in the case, particularly where parents are unable to communicate and co-parent with each other. On many occasions, Minor’s Counsel can assist the parties in learning to cooperate and come to agreements with each other so that they can avoid ongoing litigation throughout the course of the children’s life.
Minor’s Counsel: Frequently Asked Questions
When does Minor’s Counsel stop representation?
Usually, the court decides for how long the attorney keeps representing the child. If the parents are able to come to an agreement, minor’s counsel may be relieved or there may be orders that if another dispute arises in the future, minor’s counsel will again be appointed. If Minor’s Counsel is not relieved of their duties to represent the child, the representation will end when the child turns 18 years.
Who Pays for Minor’s Counsel?
This will be determined by the Orders of the Court and based in the circumstances of the Case, In many case each party will share in the costs for the attorney for their child(ren). If the parties are under a fee waiver then the court may order that the State pay all or part of the costs. Prior to making that determination the court will review financials of each party to make a reasonable decision about the ability to pay and the amount charged for the attorney being appointed. In cases where one of the parents has significantly more income than the other the Court may determine that the high earner contribute more to the costs of minor’s counsel. In other matters depending on the circumstances of the appointment of minor’s counsel the Court may determine that one parent is solely responsible for the fees.
Who can Ask for Minor’s Counsel?
The court may appoint MC for a child(ren) without a request based on prolonged litigation or if they deem that the children would benefit from their own attorney. The parties or their attorneys may also make a request in the court particularly if they are alleging that the child has a definite opinion as to where they wish to reside. Sometimes after a Custody Evaluation the Evaluator may recommend that minor’s counsel should be appointed.
What will a Court Order for Minor’s Counsel Include?
When appointing and relieving counsel for a child there must be a written order of the court.
The Orders might also include:
The child’s address and addresses of the parties, if appropriate
Issues to be addressed in case
Case-related tasks that would benefit from the services of counsel for the child
Responsibilities and rights of the child’s counsel
Counsel’s rate or amount of compensation
Allocation of fees payable by each party or the court
The source of funds and manner of reimbursement for costs and attorney fees
The Allocation of payment of attorney fees to one party subject to reimbursement by the other party
The terms and amount of any progress or installment payments
The ability of the court to change the order on fees and payment
Responsibilities of Minor’s Counsel
Minor’s Counsel will:
- Gather and present evidence about the best interests of the child;
- If minor’s counsel deems it to be appropriate, present the child’s wishes to the court;
- Inform the court if the child wants to address the court or waive the appearance of the minor at court hearings.
- Interview the child; parents; relatives; teachers; therapists and other professionals in the life of the minor child
- Review court files and records available to the parties and make additional investigation;
- Obtain the appropriate releases to be able to view confidential files such as therapist records and medical records for the child; and
- File the appropriate Declaration with the Court setting forth their Qualifications.
Minor’s Counsel can & cannot:
- Cannot be called as a witness but Minor’s Counsel can bring witnesses for the child’s case;
- Can see a child’s mental health, medical, dental, and other health-care records, and school and educational records;
- Minor’s Counsel Has the right to interview school personnel, caretakers, health-care providers, mental health professionals, and others who have assessed the child or provided care to the child;
- Must be served with all documents pertaining to child related issues in the case once appointed; and
Must be served with Notice for all custody or visitation issues for all children in the case until the time that the Court relieves them of their duty to represent the child.