The Role of Minor's Counsel in Family Court Proceedings
Bonnie R. Benitez
Therapists who treat children caught in the middle of a custody dispute are often contacted by attorneys. Typically, therapists will want to avoid engaging in any communication with the attorney of either parent (for reasons discussed in "Avoiding the Good Mom/Bad Dad Trap," page 18 or the July/August 2001 issue of The California Therapist). However, there is one attorney therapists should communicate with, minor's counsel, an attorney specifically appointed by the court to represent the child's interests.
Minor's counsel is appointed if the court determines that it would be in the best interest of the child. This attorney does not represent the interests of either parent; rather he/she represents the interests of the child in a custody or visitation proceeding. Once appearing on behalf of the child, minor's counsel will continue to represent the child unless relieved by the court or for cause.1
Duties of Minor's Counsel
Minor's counsel is charged with the representation of the child's best interests. His/her role is to gather facts that bear on the best interests of the child, and present those facts to the court, including the child's wishes when counsel deems it appropriate for consideration by the court. The duties of minor's counsel include interviewing the child, reviewing the court files and all accessible relevant records available to both parties, and making any further investigations as the counsel considers necessary to ascertain facts relevant to the custody or visitation hearings.2
At the court's request,
minor's counsel will prepare a written statement of issues and contentions
setting forth the facts that bear on the best interests of the child.
The statement sets forth a summary of information received by counsel,
a list of the sources of information, the results of the counsel's investigation,
and other matters as directed by the court. The statement is filed with
the court and submitted to the parties or their attorneys of record
prior to the hearing, unless the court orders otherwise.
Rights of Minor's
Therapists working with children should be aware that no authorization from either parent is required prior to the disclosure of information to minor's counsel. Once minor's counsel is appointed by the court, he/she is entitled to any and all mental health records regarding the child. Moreover, minor's counsel has the right to interview any health care provider in an effort to determine what is in the best interest of the child.
Access to Child Abuse Reports
with the parents' attorneys
It is important
for therapists to be cognizant of the role of each of the players involved
in a custody dispute. Although treating therapists should generally
steer clear of any communication with the parents' attorneys, contact
between a treating therapist and minor's counsel can be a key component
in a successful resolution of a custody dispute.
Code section 3150
This article appeared in the September/October 2001 issue of The California Therapist, the publication of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, headquartered in San Diego, California. This article is intended to provide guidelines for addressing difficult legal dilemmas. It is not intended to address every situation that could potentially arise, nor is it intended to be a substitute for independent legal advice or consultation. When using such information as a guide, be aware that laws, regulations and technical standards change over time, and thus one should verify and update any references or information contained herein.