Even in highly contested child custody proceedings, the courts can typically make well-informed decisions based on the evidence provided by the attorneys for the parents. In some cases, however, the interests of the children can be protected only by their own legal representative, known as minor’s counsel. While many individuals — including parents, relatives and psychological evaluators — can request minor’s counsel, only the court can authorize and appoint such an attorney.
The California Family Code defines the role of the minor’s counsel as follows:
- Interviewing the children and reviewing court and other records available to the parents
- Conducting additional investigations when appropriate
- Introducing evidence and testimony during court proceedings
- Presenting the wishes of children to the court
These attorneys have the same standing in court as the child custody attorneys for the parents. They also have the right to seek independent psychological or physical evaluation of the children, with court approval. While the court ultimately may require the county to pay for the children’s legal services, the court turns first to the disputing parties for payment if they can afford it.
A court may be inclined to appoint minor’s counsel when the conflict between parents takes a significant emotional toll on the children. My experience as a family law attorney has taught me to encourage my clients to leave their emotions at the door and take a rational approach to these important negotiations. Minor’s counsel can actually add stress to the lives of your children, while a sensible approach by parents is typically more likely to address the interests of the children while helping ensure good results for both parents as well.