Many people might not know this, but minors do have independent rights when it comes to family law. For instance, many courts across the nation allow minors above a certain age to make decisions about who becomes the primary custodial parent and how much time they spend with each parent. California goes a step further by making provisions for family law minor counsel. At the Law Offices of Dorie Rodgers, we are committed to ensuring children receive fair representation in court so that their voices get heard.
What Is Minor’s Counsel?
As the name implies minor’s counsel refers to the practice of appointing a legal professional to represent a minor during family law cases. It is important to note that even when the child favors a particular parent or arrangement, the legal counsel does not represent that individual. The professional’s only client is the child. In fact, when there are multiple children involved, the court might appoint separate counsel for each one.
What Kind of Cases Require Minor Counsel?
The family law cases that lead to the appointment of minor counsel are typically those where children face the greatest risks and disadvantages. The California Court system specifically identifies cases involving the following issues in the 2020 California Rules of the Court:
- Parents’ or child’s mental health problems
- Parents’ or child’s medical problems
- Drug use by one or both parents
- Disputes related to education
- Domestic violence
- Child abuse
What Considerations Does the Court Make?
California Courts dig even deeper into more specific reasons they might need to consider appointing counsel. These considerations are listed separately from the case issues identified above in legal documents:
- The child suffers from stress related to child custody proceedings, and appointing legal counsel might help to alleviate this.
- Counsel might provide the court with information relevant to the case that might not otherwise come to light.
- Child custody battles involve issues related to abuse or neglect, including sexual abuse of the child.
- One or both parents are not capable of providing a suitable environment to care for the child.
- The best interests of the child require independent counsel to ensure fair representation.
- Parents cannot come to an amicable agreement on child custody issues.
What Are Some Benefits of Minor Counsel?
If you are considering minor counsel for your case, you might wonder if there are any real benefits for the children involved. While there is some risk that parents might feel betrayed by the child’s ability to represent themselves, there are often countless benefits for the minors who receive this opportunity.
Provides Better Representation: Without minor counsel, children would receive little if any representation during court proceedings. This is because attorneys generally represent the interests of either parent. The courts then become tasked with trying to decide what is actually best for the child. When minors get access to representation, it reduces bias.
Reduces Parental Alienation: Psychology Today describes parental alienation as the result of one parent turning the child against the other. It is sometimes possible for one parent to even convince the child to participate in and believe false allegations of abuse. Independent counsel reduces the influence parents have in these instances, allowing the child a better opportunity to think clearly and tell the truth.
Informs Children: When minors go through family law proceedings, they might not be aware of their rights beyond what parents tell them. Minor counsel changes this. When children know their rights, they are also in a better position to exercise them. For instance, a 16-year-old with abusive parents might get the opportunity to petition for emancipation or to live with grandparents until they become an adult.
Protects Children: When children receive better representation, face fewer opportunities for negative parental influence and get to know what their rights are, they are in the best position to be protected. While not all minor counsel cases lead to ideal results for each party involved, it does improve the chances for the children — and even the parents.
When Does Minor Counsel Get Terminated?
Once the court approves an appointment, the counsel stays on the case until or unless one or more of a few specific things occur. One of the most common reasons is the case coming to a natural close. However, there are instances where the court relieves the counsel of his or her duties or replaces the person with someone else. Finally, once a child becomes an adult or gets emancipated, they no longer need minor representation.
Who Can Request the Appointment of Independent Counsel?
It might at first appear that only the court decides if a child needs independent counsel. However, other family members can often intervene to request one. In fact, California Court states that any party in the case can request independent counsel, including the child. Another concerned relative of the child might also put in a request, such as a grandparent.
If there is a mediator who meets the Family Code Section 3184 requirements, they might also request counsel. Several other professionals who have this right include district attorneys, city prosecutors and county counsel. California also reserves the right to decide on the suitability of any person making the request who does not meet these and other predetermined criteria.
Do You Need Family Law Minor Counsel?
If you believe your family law case could benefit from an independent counsel or the court recommends minor’s counsel, it is important to weigh your options carefully. It is also important to note that parents or other individuals cannot appoint legal counsel on behalf of their children in the way they hire their own attorneys. That right remains in the hands of the court and helps eliminate conflicts of interest.
If both parents are in agreement, then the court might accept their recommendation and appoint the chosen individual. Keep in mind that claims of abuse and other serious allegations might negate the possibility of the court considering the recommendation. Even so, the cost of hiring a minor’s counsel gets paid by one or both parents.
If you have an existing Orange County family law case and want advice from the Law Offices of Dorie Rodgers on how to proceed after a minor’s counsel has been appointed, we are happy to advise you. We are also eager to accept requests from California Courts to represent children. Get in touch today.
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