When Does a Child Need an Attorney?
Family legal issues can be emotionally draining, especially for the children involved. If a child’s parents are unable to come to an agreement over the legal decisions regarding their child, particularly custody or visitation, a child lawyer may be viable option.
Asking for legal representation for your child
Legally, parents have the right to ask the court to appoint a lawyer to their child to fight for his or her best interest. This is especially important in cases where parents are unable to come to an agreement, and one or both parents are concerned about the well-being of the child.
When the court appoints a lawyer for a child
In some situations, the court may decide to appoint a child a lawyer or a guardian ad litem without the parents’ request, or even against the wishes of the parents, if the judge thinks the child needs their own representation. If there is any chance of domestic or sexual abuse, the court will likely appoint legal representation for the child. Also, the court may assign an attorney if there is question of the child’s paternity.
Guardian ad litem
There are two different types of legal representation a child may have in court, either a child’s attorney or a guardian ad litem. For younger children, a guardian ad litem is more common because he or she will determine the best interests of the child and report them to the court. In some situations, the opinions of the guardian ad litem may differ from the child’s because the guardian will exercise independent judgement. A child’s attorney, in the other hand, will listen more closely to what the child wants, advocating for their desires and needs, while still acting for their benefit.
How does legal representation of a child work?
In order to establish the best interest of the child, the guardian ad litem or child’s lawyer will likely do the following:
- Meet with the Child: The lawyer will want to discuss the details of the situation with the child, especially concerning his or her feelings and wishes. These meetings will take place in the home of the child, or both homes if the child moves between the homes of each parent.
- Meet with the Child’s Parents: To understand the wishes of each parent, and to see the situation as each of them understands it, meeting with the parents is vital.
- Meet with Other Important Adults in the Child’s Life: The lawyer may speak with other adults the child sees regularly, like teachers, daycare providers, sports coaches, counselors, etc.
- Review Medical Records: If the medical records pertain to the case in any way, the child’s lawyer will review them to gain a better understanding of the situation.
- Participate in Any Hearings Related to the Child: The attorney will always be there to represent the best interest of the child in any legal aspect.
Who pays for a child’s legal representation?
The financial responsibility for the legal help your child receives, whether as a guardian ad litem or child’s attorney, lies with the parents. Typically, the fees will be split between the parents, depending on the ability to pay. In some situations, the State will pay the legal fees.
Working with your child’s legal representation
By law, the parents must both help their child’s lawyer to the best of their ability. The child must be available for meetings with their attorney, and the parents are legally obligated to permit the lawyer to see the child’s health records, school records, or other necessary and helpful information.
One of the most important things to remember about a child’s lawyer or guardian ad litem is that he or she is not the parents’ lawyer. Lawyers who represent children work solely for the best interest of the child, and will not do what either parent asks. Instead, they will use all gathered information to make all necessary judgements about the best options for the child.
If you are in a situation where you think your family would benefit from the help of a child’s attorney, contact McKinley Irvin in Oregon. We will provide honest, confidential legal counsel and discuss your child’s options.