by Attorney Tana Landau
When child custody and visitation are issues in a case, the Court must determine what is in the best interest of a child. While some parents may be able to come to an agreement without the help of the Court, there are many high conflict cases where parents just can’t agree.
Minor children are rarely permitted to testify in Court or speak to a Judge directly, so when you are in a high conflict divorce it may be appropriate to request minor’s counsel – a person who will be a neutral voice for your child.
Either party or attorney may request that the Court appoint minor’s counsel, and anyone acting as minor’s counsel is required to complete special training. Once appointed they only represent the child. Minor’s Counsel’s role is to consider what is in the best interest of your child independent of the emotions that are involved in a contested divorce or high conflict custody situation.
Minor’s counsels are essentially fact finders for the Court – they consider the best interests of the child, including the child’s wishes (when deemed appropriate) for consideration of the Court under the Family Law Code. It is important to note that minor’s counsel cannot be called to testify in Court (unlike a custody evaluator).
Minor’s counsels can interview the parties, the child (directly, without either parent present), and any other necessary individuals. This may include interviewing teachers, doctors, or therapists. Minor’s counsel may also review records such as school records or medical records for the child. They may also even request physical and psychological examinations that affect the minor child.
You may be asking yourself: who pays for minor’s counsel? Minor’s counsel is typically paid for by the parties. If the Court determines that both parties together are financially unable to pay all or a portion of a cost, the portion of minor’s counsel’s cost that they cannot pay will be paid by the county.
Situations where minor counsel might be needed other than high conflict custody matters include cases where the child is distressed by the dispute between the parents, where either parent may be incapable of providing a stable and safe environment for the child, matters involving abuse, or where there are special issues that a minor’s counsel can provide insight into for the Court.