Your child s lawyer. Court-appointed lawyer for the child in cases deciding on care of children

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1 Your child s lawyer Court-appointed lawyer for the child in cases deciding on care of children

2 When disputes about the care of your children are at the Family Court, the court often appoints an independent lawyer for them. This lawyer is called the lawyer for the child.

3 When will a lawyer be appointed? If a judge has concerns for the safety or wellbeing of your child in a care of children dispute, they can appoint a lawyer for them. The court must appoint a lawyer in care and protection cases involving Child, Youth and Family (under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989). WHO CAN BE MY CHILD S LAWYER? Each Family Court has a list of experienced family lawyers. All of them have had specific training in representing children and they re familiar with children s issues. WHO DECIDES IF A LAWYER WILL BE APPOINTED? A Family Court judge will decide if a lawyer for the child will be appointed. Does each child in my family get their own lawyer? Not usually. In most cases, the same lawyer represents all the children. However, the lawyer will usually meet with each child individually. Sometimes the parents or other people involved in the case may think that a different lawyer should be appointed to represent each child in the case. A judge will decide if 1 or more lawyers are needed. Who pays for the lawyer? The court will decide whether you (and the other people involved) have to pay some of the costs. You may not have to pay if the court decides it would cause you or your child hardship.

4 What does the lawyer do? There are 4 main things your child s lawyer has to do. They have to: explain the court process to your child in a way they can understand represent your child in the court process and any negotiations between you and the other people involved in disputes about care arrangements make sure your child s views and all issues relevant to their welfare and best interests are explained to the court explain the judge s decision to your child and talk about how it will affect them. Although each lawyer has their own way of doing things, it s likely they will: spend some time with your child spend individual time with each parent (or other people involved in the case) spend some time with other significant people involved in your child s life, such as members of your wider family, whānau, teachers or social workers.

5 WHAT PRINCIPLES IS THE LAWYER GUIDED BY? Your child s lawyer will be guided by principles in the Care of Children Act 2004; the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989; and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. These include: that children have a right to know and be cared for by their parents that children have a right to their identity, name and culture that children should be protected from all forms of violence that children have a right to say what they think about issues that affect them, or to say nothing if that s what they want that decisions about who looks after or has contact with children should be made quickly and according to the child s sense of time. If there is any conflict between these or other relevant principles, the deciding factors will always be what is best for the welfare of your child and in their best interests.

6 What can the lawyer do in court? Like any other lawyer who represents someone in court, your child s lawyer can: bring witnesses into the court to give evidence cross-examine (question) witnesses brought to the court by other people address the judge (make spoken or written submissions) about the evidence, the law that applies to the case and anything else they feel should be brought to the judge s attention. WILL MY CHILD S LAWYER DECIDE THE CASE? No, the judge will decide. WHAT HAPPENS IF WE RESOLVE OUR DISPUTE ABOUT CARE ARRANGEMENTS WHILE THE CASE IS GOING THROUGH THE COURT PROCESS? Up until the judge makes a decision, you and the other people involved can make a parenting agreement at any stage. If you then want to make the parenting agreement into a Parenting Order (a formal and court-enforceable version of a parenting agreement), both the judge and your child s lawyer must agree with it. If you and other people involved can t agree on care arrangements or a Parenting Order, the judge will make a decision.

7 How much weight is put on what my child says? After hearing from you, the other people involved and your child s lawyer, the judge will decide how much weight should be given to your child s views. Whatever the final decision, your child s views must be taken into account. Will the lawyer report back to my child at the end of the case? Yes, the lawyer will explain the judge s decision to your child at the end of the case. The lawyer must explain to your child what the Parenting Order means in words your child can understand. Your child can challenge the Parenting Order by appealing to a higher court. The lawyer will explain this to your child and help them lodge an appeal (if this is what they want).

8 What will my child s relationship with their lawyer be? Does my child have to talk to their lawyer? The lawyer must meet with your child unless there are special reasons why this isn t appropriate. If your child is reluctant to meet the lawyer, they won t be forced to. Most children value a chance to talk to someone about what is happening. You (and other people involved) should encourage your child to talk with the lawyer so that their views can be taken into account during the case. WHERE WILL MY CHILD AND THEIR LAWYER MEET? The lawyer may choose to see your child at home, at school, at their office or some other place. The most appropriate place will depend on where your child feels most comfortable. This will often depend on their age. Your child s lawyer will usually discuss this with you and the other people involved. Is what my child says to their lawyer confidential? Yes. Your child s lawyer acts for them and can t tell anyone else what they said if your child doesn t allow it. The only exception is if the lawyer finds out they or someone else may be unsafe then the lawyer can repeat information without your child s permission. The lawyer will explain all of this to your child.

9 Will the lawyer make my child choose if there s a dispute over care arrangements? No. It is not the job of the lawyer or anyone else to make a child choose between their parents or other caregivers. However, the lawyer may ask your child what they think about the dispute. The lawyer will probably ask them if there are any issues they want the adults to know about. How the lawyer does this will depend on your child s age. Can my child s lawyer make them go to court? No. Sometimes the lawyer will ask your child if they want to meet the judge and sometimes the judge will ask to meet them. Usually, you (or other people involved) aren t there when your child meets a judge. Only the judge, a court official, your child and their lawyer will be there. What if one of us thinks the other is telling the child what to say to their lawyer? If you (or other people involved) think the other person is programming your child about what to tell their lawyer, you should tell your own lawyer and your child s lawyer. The court may decide to get specialist help to try and find out if this is happening.

10 What if my child doesn t like their lawyer? If your child can and feels comfortable talking about it, they should tell the Family Court coordinator if they don t like their lawyer. Otherwise, you (or the other people involved) should tell the child s lawyer. If that is difficult, you can talk to your own lawyer or the Family Court coordinator. If a lawyer has done something wrong for example, if they ve acted negligently or unprofessionally you can complain to the District Law Society. What will my relationship with the lawyer be? Can I (or other people involved) talk with my child s lawyer? When there s a dispute about care arrangements for children, most lawyers for the child make a point of contacting each parent (or other people involved) to find out their views on what arrangements will best suit them and the children. But it s important to remember that the child s lawyer is acting for them and not you or the other adults involved. The lawyer has to stay independent and keep focused on your child and their needs and views. WHERE WILL THE LAWYER MEET WITH THE ADULTS INVOLVED? Normally, your child s lawyer will meet with each adult individually. You will meet in the lawyer s office.

11 WHAT IF I (OR THE OTHER PEOPLE INVOLVED) DON T WANT TO TALK TO THE LAWYER? You (and the other people involved) don t have to talk to your child s lawyer. But, by talking to your child s lawyer, you may get a better understanding of what your child thinks and wants, and the issues affecting them. You would also get the chance to tell the lawyer what you think is best for your child. Talking to the lawyer may be a way for you to work out options for resolving disagreements. Is what I say to the child s lawyer confidential? No. Can I find out what my child tells their lawyer? If the child agrees, yes. One of the main reasons for having a lawyer for the child is for them to be your child s voice in the court case and any negotiations between you and the other people involved about care arrangements. What if I don t like what my child s lawyer is doing? You should talk to your child s lawyer, your own lawyer or the Family Court coordinator.

12 Need more information? Visit the Ministry of Justice website justice.govt.nz/family-justice Call us on AGREE ( ) Contact your local court justice.govt.nz/services/finding-your-local-court Contact a family lawyer Contact a Community Law Centre communitylaw.org.nz MORE INFORMATION justice.govt.nz/family-justice AGREE ( ) MOJ0601-DEC15

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