Often clients will hear that their children have strong opinions on parenting arrangements and ask, “How can their voices be heard?” We never want children to have to appear in court and testify about their parents, but it is important for them to share their perspectives. An attorney for the child may offer a solution.
In Oregon, if a child requests a lawyer, one must be appointed for her. Requests can be in any form, even handwritten, and can be made either directly to the Court or to a parent, who then informs the lawyer. The lawyer in turn makes a motion to the Court to have counsel appointed for the child. Your lawyer may recommend a colleague who would work well with your children or can simply request that the Court appoint one for them. Some lawyers for children will take the case at either a reduced hourly rate, or even pro bono, to give children from all backgrounds an equal opportunity to find representation.
A child’s lawyer has wide latitude in how to approach representation, depending on the ages of the children and the issues they raise. While each lawyer has a protocol for handling such cases, in general they will set up a meeting with their new client and will want each parent to bring the children to the office at least once. The lawyer may visit both parents’ homes to observe the child in a more natural setting and get a feel for the conditions at both places. The children’s lawyer will be actively involved in settlement discussions with the parents’ lawyers and may have discussions with the custody evaluator, if there is one.
Remember that children enjoy confidential relationships with their lawyers, except in cases where a child is threatening to harm herself or others. This policy gives children the ability to be open and honest with their lawyers without fear of upsetting either parent. A child’s lawyer may call witnesses at trial or, more commonly, question the witnesses called by the parents. Additionally, the judge may ask a child’s lawyer what her client wants as far as parenting time. All of this ensures that your child’s voice will be heard and her concerns fairly considered.
When should a child have a lawyer? Anytime she feels that her voice is being silenced. A child’s opinions are important to consideration in any custody case; assigning your child her own lawyer is one way to make her heard.