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Representing Children, “The Attorney For The Child”

New York Governor David A. Patterson has recently signed a law that modified the statutory language regarding attorneys who represent children in the Family Court of the State of New York . We wrote about an attorney’s obligations to a child clint HERE. Attorneys representing children in New York Family Courts have the title “attorney for the child”. The former terminology referred to attorneys who represented children as “Law Guardians”.

The change is much greater than just a change in terminology. It is a change in philosophy. The terminology “attorney for the child” makes it clear that the court is dealing with a lawyer advocate for the child’s position. The proper role for the attorney for the child is to advocate what the child wants in delinquency proceedings, child custody proceedings, visitation proceedings, foster care proceedings and other proceedings brought before the Family Court in the State of New York.

The initial change in the statutory language from Law Guardian to an attorney for the child started in October 2007 when Chief Judge Judith Kay sighted section 7.2 of the Rules of the Chief Judge in which she adopted advocacy standards for attorneys who represented children recommended by the Milla Commission.

“In ascertaining the child’s position, the attorney for the child must consult with and advise the child to the extent of and in manner consistent with child’s capabilities and have a through understanding of the child’s circumstances” section 7.2 states.

” If the child is capable of knowing, voluntary and considered judgement, the attorney for the child should be directed by the wishes of the child, even if the attorney for the child believes that what the child wants is not in the child’s best interest”.

This rule requires an attorney to explain the options available to his or her child client. The attorney can make recommendations to the child which the attorney feels would be in child’s best interest. The attorney can only deviate from the child’s wishes if there is a “substantial risk of eminent, serious harm to the child” if the child wishes are granted.

The purpose of the change in language is to eliminate any confusion over what role the attorney for the child fills. Attorney’s for children now must vigorously and diligently advocate the child’s position. They must not present their opinion if they disagree with the child’s position. This law is designed to see that children’s wishes are clearly, concisely and diligently presented to court. Query: will this make custody litigation a popularity contest? Will the child pick the parent who gives in to the child’s wishes instead of guiding the child in what is in the child’s best interest?

Law office of Elliot Schlissel have been representing both mothers and fathers in child custody, visitation proceedings, child support matters, and other types of litigation before the family courts for more than 30 years. Call us at 1-800-344-6431 or email us for a free consultation.

Picture courtesy of warrickcasa.us.

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