When are attorneys for children useful/necessary and does that vary by county?

Dissolution of marriage or other family law matters are often very emotional and scary for children. When parents cannot come to an agreement about custody or parenting time in a high conflict case, sometimes the court will appoint an attorney specifically to represent the child’s interests. This may also happen if there have been allegations of abuse or there is a question regarding paternity. How this happens varies by county, but there are generally two kinds of legal representation a child may have depending on the child’s age, mental development ,and the issues the court must decide.

The first type is a “best interests” attorney. It is the attorney’s role to present the court with a proposed schedule or custodial arrangement that the attorney believes is in the child’s best interest. This usually occurs when a child is too young to fully understand the situation and the alternatives. The second type is an “advocacy” or “express wishes” attorney. In those cases the attorney presents to the court what the child wants, whether or not it is in the child’s best interest. This is similar to the representation of an adult client and is based on what the client wants rather than what might be best for the client. Even in this situation, however, the attorney will discuss options with the child and try to guide him or her.

In Oregon, the appointment of a child’s attorney often occurs at the request of a parent, by motion, and is up to the judge’s discretion, but the court can make the appointment on its own if thought necessary. A child’s attorney is required to be appointed if the child makes a written request, i.e. writes a letter to the judge. The attorney will meet/speak with the child, the parents, any other important adults in the child’s life to help assess the situation. The attorney may also review records such as school records, medical records, and therapy records. The parents are required to cooperate and permit these investigations to happen. The child’s attorney will participate in any hearings related to the child, can present evidence and argument, and can call or cross-examine witnesses. The attorney’s client is the child, not the child’s parent(s).

Multnomah County has a specific program called the Children’s Representation Project and related rules for appointment. In Washington County, local rules are very specific about the appointment process. Other counties have not created their own local rules and instead follow the state statute about child’s attorney appointments. The appointment of a child’s attorney is just one option you may have in your case. It is important to understand all options. If you have questions about whether an attorney for your child is appropriate, or what other options you may have in your case, contact our office to schedule a consultation.