In the State of California, a private attorney may be appointed to represent a minor in Family Law cases involving child abuse, child neglect, drug related cases, high conflict divorces and other cases the court deems appropriate. Requests for appointment of minor's counsel are usually made by court-appointed mediators or evaluators, either parent or even the court itself.
Minor's counsel only represents the child and not the parents. In some cases, where more than one child is involved, separate counsel for each child, may be appointed. The county may pay for the representation but usually the pay in Family Law cases is minimal or non-existent.
Any information provided to the minor's counsel by parents, mental health providers or other collateral sources, is subject to review by the court with the exception of privileged information. Once assigned, they continue to represent the minor until the child reaches majority or is substituted by other counsel. Occasionally, minor's counsel may be removed by the court.
Minor's counsel acts as fact finders and their requests for action to the court are often heavily weighed. Their requests are based on the child's best interests including the health, safety and welfare of the child. Minor's counsel may gather information from interviews with the child and parents, therapists, doctors, school records, medical records, psychological evaluations and any other record that provides relevant information as to the child's needs. In some cases, minor's counsel may express the child's wishes to the court.
Minor's Counsel Rights and Access
Minor's counsel may be given unhampered access to a child's records as well as entrusted with other rights in order to protect the child's best interests. Some of these rights are as follows:
- Reasonable access to the minor.
- Seeking relief on behalf of the minor.
- Notices of proceedings and all phases of the proceeding, including any requests for examinations that may affect the minor.
- The right to interview individuals and review records relating to medical, dental, psychological, school, case workers, service providers or any other individual that has cared for the child. They are required to maintain confidentiality in accordance with the law.
- The right to be given notice of, to seek or refuse independent medical and psychological exams, for the purpose of the proceedings, unless court ordered.
- The right to be provided all court filings and documentations, to file proceedings and respond, on behalf of the minor. At every hearing where it pertains to custody, evaluation, visitation or other hearing directly related to the child, minor's counsel has a right to be notified and present as well as be given the opportunity to be make statements or be heard by the court on behalf of the minor.
Along with all of these rights above, minor's counsel has the right to make statements or requests openly or in writing to the court. This includes, monitoring advocates, parents, counselors, state workers and others involved with the child to ensure that they are not violating the child's rights.
In California, minor's counsel carries a lot of weight with the courts. They are a neutral voice for the child, without compromising the child's rights or emotional well-being and not forcing the child to side with one parent or the other. Their role is to consider what is in the child's best interests, while not being bound by emotions that often come with divorce, child abuse, neglect and other difficult issues often associated with contested child custody or divorce cases.