There are few situations more stressful and potentially confrontational in life than divorce proceedings. And the situation can be even more complicated when there are children involved. While many cases may be settled amicably with mutual agreement on things such as custody or parenting time and visitation, in other cases there is no agreement or there may be other factors such as substance or domestic abuse.
While we normally think of lawyers being involved to represent each of the spouses in court, there are times when the views of any children need to be heard and this can be achieved by them having an attorney to represent them.
When Should My Child Have Legal Representation?
There are three main sets of circumstances where your child having an attorney is advisable. In many cases, it is the court who will decide if a lawyer is needed to represent the child and you cannot go against this decision.
- Where there is disagreement or conflict over the matter of custody or levels of visitation and access rights.
- When there are factors that may affect the court’s decision on aspects of any settlement. These include substance abuse, violence & domestic abuse, or allegations or history of any form of child abuse.
- Where there is a dispute over paternity.
Lawyers who represent children must have experience and knowledge of doing so. They must have undergone certain training or courses so as to know how to best represent the interests of the child in court.
Will the Court Always Accept a Request for an Attorney to Represent a Child?
The court may not accept your request if it feels that nothing is served or gained by your child having their own lawyer. If you still feel your child needs more support or services then you can ask the court for a referral to Child & Family Services who will assess the case and offer any additional support where needed.
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a lawyer who is appointed by the court to investigate what solutions would be in the best interest of the child. A GAL’s duty under Michigan law is to the child and not to the court. The court may ask the GAL to look at a broad range of issues pertaining to the case or they may ask them to examine specific factors in detail. For example, if one parent has a history of substance abuse, how recent is that history, is the parent undergoing treatment, etc.
Who Pays For A Child’s Legal Representation?
The court may decide on one of three options for paying for a child’s lawyer.
- One or both parents may be ordered to pay.
- Legal aid may pay where neither parent can afford representation for the child.
- Legal aid may pay initially but will try and recoup those fees later.
What Will a Child’s Lawyer Do?
The lawyer or GAL will undertake several steps to best represent the child in any case.
- Meet and talk to the child. To fully represent the child or children, the lawyer will request at least one meeting with them so as to establish their views and any wishes they may have as far as the case is concerned. These meetings usually take place in the child’s home, or homes if they live with both separated parents.
- Parents. As well as establishing the views of the child, the lawyer will also meet with each parent to get a better overview of the situation.
- Other relevant adults. Depending on circumstances, the lawyer may want to speak to other relevant adults. These can include grandparents, teachers and counselors.
- Medical records. If there are medical or healthcare aspects that may affect the case in any way, then the lawyer will review all records and may also talk to any involved healthcare professionals.
- Participation. The lawyer will participate in any court hearings or mediation to represent the child’s views.
Working With Your Child’s Legal Representation
Even where there is reluctance to do so, both parents are legally required to cooperate with a child’s lawyer or GAL. They must ensure the child is available for any meetings and they must allow the lawyer access to the child’s medical or school records or other relevant documentation.
Whether it is a court appointed attorney or one chosen by the parents, the important thing to remember is that the lawyer is there to represent the child, not the parents or the court. The best interests of the child and their wishes in the matter is the lawyer’s primary focus.
Michigan Premier Law is the state’s leading specialists in family law. With many years of experience in this area of the law, we can help guide you through the process and advise you if and when your child needs their own legal representation. Our senior partner, George Drosis, is also a certified family law specialist.
We offer a free initial appointment so that we can evaluate your case and discuss the best way to move forward. If you would like to schedule a complimentary case evaluation, please call us at (248) 688-0045.