Myths and Facts in Appointment of Child’s Counsel

A child can have independent and private counsel: Fact 

The court may appoint a private counsel to represent the child’s interest in the California child custody or visitation proceeding if the court determines that it would be in the child’s best interest.  

The court can appoint the child’s counsel without a request from any party: Fact 

The court may appoint a counsel to represent the child’s best interest on the court’s own motion. The court may also appoint a counsel at the request of any of the following parties:  

  • A party. 
  • The lawyer for a party.  
  • The child or any relative of the child. 
  • A mediator. 
  • A custody evaluator
  • A court-appointed guardian ad litem or special advocate. 
  • A county counsel, district attorney, city attorney, or city prosecutor authorized to prosecute child abuse and neglect or child abduction cases under state law. 
  • Any other person who the court deems appropriate.  

The court will automatically appoint the child’s counsel if a party requests it: Myth  

The court must take into consideration several factors before appointing counsel. The factors to be considered by the court are as follows:  

  • When the issues are highly contested or protracted. 
  • When the intervention of counsel can alleviate the child’s stress. 
  • Whether the attorney can provide the court with relevant information otherwise not readily available. 
  • When the dispute involves allegations of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect of the child. 
  • When the parents are incapable of providing a stable, safe, and secure environment. 
  • Whether the counsel is knowledgeable about issues being raised regarding the child. 
  • Whether the child’s best interest requires independent representation.  
  • Whether the child would require a separate counsel to avoid conflict of interest if there are two or more children.  

The child’s attorney must report the child’s wishes to the court: Fact 

The child’s attorney is mandated to report the child’s wishes to the court if the child desires. The role of the child’s counsel is to gather evidence that bears the child’s best interest and present those that are admissible as evidence in court.  

The child’s attorney can exercise certain rights over the child: Fact 

The rights of the child’s counsel include, among others:  

  • Reasonable access to the child. 
  • Standing to seek affirmative relief on the child’s behalf. 
  • Notice of all proceedings. 
  • Right to take any action available to the party to the proceeding. 
  • Access to the child’s health and education records and interview the person involved in the child’s education, health care, and caretaking. 
  • Right to assert or waive any privilege on the child’s behalf. 
  • Right to seek an independent physical or psychological examination or evaluation of the child, with the court’s approval. 
  • The right to a reasonable and advance notice of and the right to refuse any physical or psychological examination or evaluation for purposes of the proceeding that has not been court-ordered.  

The child’s counsel is a paid position: Fact 

An appointed counsel receives reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, paid for by the parties and allocated as the court deems appropriate.  

Only the parents can be required to pay the costs of the child’s counsel: Myth  

The parties who may be liable for payment of fees and costs include third parties joined on custody and visitation issues. Still, insofar as third parties are concerned, their responsibility is limited to the fees and costs incurred due to the third party’s custody and visitation claims.  

The county will pay if the parties cannot afford the costs of the child’s counsel: Fact  

If the parties are unable to pay all or a portion of the costs of the counsel, the county is to pay that portion the parties are unable to afford.  

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