CHILDREN, DIVORCE, & BEST INTERESTS
When it comes to divorce, we think of spouses splitting or a marriage ending. Either the relationship has “run its course,” or irreconcilable differences culminate in one party petitioning the other for a legal separation.
Family court is unlike criminal court, where one has a constitutional right to an attorney. A marriage is not “on trial.” In family court, some people represent themselves, while others hire a lawyer. Low-income individuals and families can get an attorney assigned to them by the courts. All states have family court legal services, usually under Legal Aid.
But what happens to the kids?
Do children get an attorney?
In a word, sometimes. Children don’t necessarily need an attorney. The custody battle and everything else gets dealt with by the parents and their lawyers. But sometimes, a child will get assigned an attorney if the court believes your child needs a lawyer, or you ask the courts for one.
Why would my child need a lawyer?
In cases where there is abuse, neglect, or delinquency, the court usually appoints an attorney for the child.
If this is not the case, why would you ask for an attorney for your child? Some parents do so if there is a disagreement about custody and visitation between them. The standard for this is the child’s best interest, but getting your child a lawyer gives them a voice in the matter. Courts take what the child wants into consideration, especially if the child is older (usually around 7 or older).
If you are worried about your child’s safety or are questioning the paternity, it may be another reason to ask the court to give your child an attorney.
Asking for an attorney for your child does not automatically grant them one. A child receives an attorney if abuse, neglect, or delinquency exists. If not, it is up to the judge’s discretion. If your child doesn’t get assigned an attorney, you may hire a private attorney.
Where does the lawyer come from?
If the court grants your child an attorney, they usually come from legal services. Since children generally do not have any income, these attorneys work for legal services and come at no cost to you or your family. If you have to hire an outside attorney, the situation may be different, however.
I have more than one child. Do they get the same lawyer?
If you have more than one child, they may or may not get assigned the same attorney, depending on what the child wants. If all of the kids have similar interests - for example, they both want to live with the same parent - they may get the same attorney. If they have different interests or have different abuse, neglect, or delinquency situations, different attorneys may be assigned to represent them. The situations are case-specific, and more than one attorney may be assigned to prevent a potential conflict of interest.
The child’s best interest will always be the court’s interest, which always requires interpretation. An attorney for the child can help the child have a say in what will happen to them. A child can have an attorney assigned to them at any age until they are 18. Older children, in general, get more say and influence.
How LegalQ can help you TODAY
Custody and child support are one of many layers to divorce proceedings. If you consider filing for divorce (or need to respond to a petition), but don’t know where to start, consider using LegalQ.
LegalQ is an app that makes it easy to connect with an attorney to get answers.
Speaking to a family law attorney can help you in making a plan and moving forward with confidence. With LegalQ, you pay for 15 or 30-minute consultations with an attorney in your state, giving you a place to jumpstart and figure out your next move. Download the app to get connected today.