“It is a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.” Niccolo Machiavelli
Involving a child in a custody and visitation hearing is avoided at all costs. Even though parents have a right to call their child to testify in custody hearings, in practice, it rarely happens. In high conflict custody cases, the court will often find other ways to gather evidence to find what is in the best interest of your child(ren) short of them testifying.
If your case is high conflict, where allegations are hurled back and forth, the court may appoint an attorney to represent your child in court.
It is a very awkward thing to appoint a five-year old an attorney. I recall once being in court and seeing a child stamp up and down crying “I want my lawyer.” The bailiff could not calm her down until he went and fetched the demanding child’s lawyer.
If you are involved in a high conflict custody case in Los Angeles County, there is a strong chance that the court will appoint an attorney to represent your children’s interest in court. While I do not mean to imply that judges rubber stamp minor’s counsel’s requests, what your kid’s attorney requests in court is often the order of the court. Being informed about the role of minor’s counsel will assist you in custody and visitation proceedings.
I was recently certified to represent children in family court as a minor’s counsel. I have had 11-years of cases against minor’s counsel in dependency court and dozens with minor’s counsel in family law. My personal and professional opinion about minor’s counsel tosses back and forth between admiration to completely terrified.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
I am constantly hearing from my colleagues about some reckless minor’s counsel that wields entirely too much power with the court. I am always asked about this minor’s counsel or that one. It is an issue that continues to come up throughout the years.
A minor’s counsel is an attorney that represents children in custody proceedings. Pursuant to California Family Code Section 3150 (a), if the court determines it would be in the best interest of the child(ren), the court may appoint private counsel to represent the child(ren) in a custody or visitation proceeding, and provide the court and counsel comply with California Rule of Court 5.242.
Minor’s counsel is required to represent the best interest of the child(ren) by gathering and presenting evidence that bears on the best interest of the child. Minor’s counsel is not required to be a social worker or provide non-legal services. Think of it as a third attorney on the case that is subject to the same laws and procedures as your lawyer.
Subject to the court’s order of appointment, pursuant to California Rule of Court 5.242(k), minor’s counsel may attend and participate in hearings relevant to the child, take positions relevant to the child on legal issues before the court, and seek and advocate for services for the child. If the child(ren) desire, minor’s counsel may present the child’s wishes to the court.
When the court appoints an attorney to represent your children, their job is to gather admissible evidence and advocate for services.
The Minor’s counsel pursuant to California Rule of Court 5.242(j), has a right to the following:
- Reasonable access to the child(ren)
- Seek affirmative relief on behalf of the child
- Take any action available to a party
- Access to the child’s medical, dental, mental health, school, and educational records
- Assert or waive any privilege on behalf of the child
- Seek independent psychological or physical examination
- Not be called as a witness
Do I Have to Allow My Child to Speak With the Minor’s Counsel?
Yes. California Rule of Court 5.242(j) allows for reasonable access. This includes meeting with your child in private. This maintains attorney and client privilege. So, any attempt to deny the attorney access to your child could be a costly mistake.
What Do I Do if the Minor’s Counsel is Against My Interest in Court?
If the minor’s counsel is against what you want in court, your chances of success are lowered. However, if you must fight Minor’s Counsel in court, then know their role in the proceedings. Their role is to gather admissible evidence and advocate on behalf of the children.
So, if the minor’s counsel is stating what your children have said, OBJECT to it as hearsay. Often, the minor’s counsel will come in and report what others have told them. Make sure to shut down any attempts by the minor’s counsel to talk about things that are not in evidence.
If you are representing yourself in court, consult with a Long Beach family law attorney about what is admissible evidence is for your case.
Do I Get to Pick the Minor’s Counsel?
The Minor’s Counsel is appointed by the court. Most times the court randomly selects attorneys for each case. Certain judges tend to appoint the same minor’s counsel repeatedly.
If both sides agree to the appointment of minor’s counsel, then the court will often allow the parties to select.
Which Minor’s Counsel Do I Want to Pick?
Like all professions, mediocrity is present in the pool of minor’s counsel. I suggest consulting with at least five Family Law Attorney specialist with the court where your case is assigned about the best and the worst minor’s counsel that could be appointed to represent your children.
I suggest finding a minor’s counsel that is reputable with your specific judge, who has worked with your lawyer previously and develop strategies to avoid getting certain minor’s counsel appointed on your case.
What Do I Do When Minor’s Counsel is Appointed to My Family Law Case?
As a minor’s counsel, I want to talk to the parents about the case. I want to find out the family history, issues, and the evidence available to discover the best interest of the children. My suggestion is to not overwhelm the minor’s counsel with information but to gather helpful evidence to your case and provide it to them in a timely manner.
Be an advocate for your child. Layout what parenting plan you think is best and why. Help minor’s counsel understands the issues and challenges that your family has so that the minor’s counsel can identify and seek solutions.
A good minor’s counsel should always seek a resolution to your case. When parents fight in court, there is an energy and negativity that seeps into the child’s life.
If you are appointed minor’s counsel, know that their requests are given great weight by the court. It is best to work hard towards a settlement with the minor’s counsel. If a settlement is not possible, you should know the minor counsel’s role and contest their position based on a lack of evidence in the record.