There are several names of lawyers who represent minors in Family Court. Many times they are referred to as a child lawyer or a child advocate lawyer. However, under Family Court Act 241, an attorney for the child (AFC) is a court-appointed attorney who is assigned to represent a minor to “help protect their interests” and to “help them express their wishes to the court.”
They are dedicated to making sure the minor child of those involved in divorce, guardianship or custody negotiations are treated fairly. He/she will take steps to get to know the child and to evaluate the child’s situation.
The attorney for the child must act in a way that is consistent with legal practice, and should not try to be the child’s social worker, or psychologist. The appointed attorney is subject to the ethical requirements that apply to all attorneys, which include but are not limited to: client confidentiality (meaning that the attorney can’t go gossiping about what the child said), checking for conflicts of interest (the attorney can’t represent the child if the they once represented one of the parents, for example), and becoming a witness in a proceeding (which the attorney cannot do).
Like with any client, the child is entitled to independent and effective representation. The attorney must consult and advise the child regarding the proceeding, and maintain contact with the child in case any concerns arise. It is important for the attorney to be able to maintain contact with the child in order to best represent their interests.
If the child has the capacity to understand the situation and make a decision for him/herself, the attorney should follow the child’s position, even if the attorney does not believe that the child’s wishes are not in his/her best interests. The attorney should discuss the options available to the child and give legal advice, but at the end of the day, if the child has the capacity to understand and make a decision, the attorney must advocate for the child’s position.
If the attorney for the child believes that the child does not have the capacity to make a decision, or that the child’s wishes are likely to result in a substantial risk of imminent, serious harm to the child, the attorney can advocate for a position that is different from the child’s wishes.
The attorney will want to see your child or children alone. This can be unsettling, but just as you have the right to meet with your own legal counsel alone, your child has the same right. If you have a case where a attorney for the child has been appointed, it is crucial to make a good impression. Some things not to do:
- Don’t flirt with the attorney for the child.
- Don’t call the attorney for the child an “a**hole.”
- Don’t accuse the attorney for the child of corruption, bias, etc.
- Don’t coach your child on what to say, especially not in front of the attorney for the child or his or her colleagues.
Disclaimer: All of the above are true stories. I’ve seen most of them with my own eyes, and when I haven’t, friends have told me about them. Family matters can get complicated, especially when children are involved.
If you need any legal assistance regarding a family court proceeding or a matrimonial matter, please contact The Law Offices of Joseph H. Nivin, P.C. to ensure that your interests are being heard!