In most New York custody cases, the court appoints an attorney for the child to represent the children in the case. The attorney for the child is an attorney specially trained in custody cases that the state has approved. Their role is to present the children’s perspective to the court.
The attorney for the child can present evidence, call witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses in the trial. Since their role is so unique, attorneys for the children also frequently investigates, including meeting the child, meeting both parents, seeing both homes, and possibly speaking with the children’s teachers, doctors, and therapists.
Your attorney will likely notify you that an attorney for the child has been appointed and share their contact information. If your attorney advises you not to speak with the attorney for the child, follow their advice. However, in most situations, it is to your advantage to meet them. The attorney for the child has the right to meet your child even if you personally have been advised not to meet with them since they represent your child. The attorney for the child will likely reach out to you to schedule a phone call, meeting at their office, or home visit at your home.
Rules of Engagement with the Attorney for the Child(ren)
The attorney for the child has a tremendous amount of influence over the outcome of your custody case. Since attorneys for the children receive special training and have experience in these matters, the judge is likely to give their opinion a lot of weight. Therefore, you want the attorney for the child to be on your side.
In all of your communications with the attorney for the child, you should be:
- Knowledgeable about everything about your child
Your Child and the Attorney for the Child(ren)
The attorney for the child will need to speak with your child privately and may also wish to see your child interact with both parents. It is important that you explain to your child in an age-appropriate way who the attorney for the child is. Do not stress them out about this. Instead, present the attorney for the child as a friendly person involved in the case who just wants to meet them. It is important that you present this in a positive light and encourage them to be friendly to the attorney for the child.
Whatever you do, do NOT try to rehearse your child for this meeting. Do not tell them what to say or what not to say. Do not tell them that it is up to them to decide where they will live (ultimately, it is up to the judge – children do not bear that level of responsibility). If you try to feed your child rehearsed lines, the attorney for the child will likely be able to tell. Children tend to say things like, “Mom said I should tell you that….”
You also should not bribe your children or make promises to them that hinge on how the meeting with the attorney for the child goes because that usually is revealed as well by children who report that dad is going to take them to get a puppy if they say they want to live with him.
Be aware that if your case goes to trial, the judge may decide to interview your child in his or her chambers. This is called an in-camera interview, and the attorney for the child will be present with your child, as well as a court reporter. The transcript from this meeting is confidential, and neither party nor their attorneys will get to see it. Your child will never need to appear in court other than this informal meeting.
Preparing for a Home Visit
If the attorney for the child would like to do a home visit at your home, be welcoming and accessible. It is important to try to relax and let your guard down a bit. This is not an interrogation or a critical examination. Instead, the attorney for the child is simply trying to get a sense of the environment in your home and how your child fits in. Do not make special preparations, instead, try to present your home in a good light on a normal day. It’s fine to offer the attorney for the child coffee, water, or a soft drink, but don’t go over the top with food or décor. Try not to put on a show. The most important thing is that the visit rings true and that the attorney for the child sees what your home life is truly like.
That being said, there are some preparations you should undertake, such as:
- Advise household staff about what is happening, so they are prepared and know to be friendly and welcoming
- Block the time out so that you are not interrupted by work or household matters
- Do not leave illegal drugs out anywhere nor discuss illegal activities or substances
- Have the TV, radio, or music off during the visit to minimize distractions
- If there are guns or weapons in your home, ensure they are locked away and that you can describe your security measures
- If you have a baby or toddler, ensure that your home is adequately childproofed
Make a List
When you meet one-on-one with the attorney for the child, whether it is at your home or their office, it is a good idea to take some time to think about what you want to tell them. This is your chance to make your argument about why you should have custody.
Create a mental list of things such as:
- Concerns you have about the other parent or their home
- Potential witnesses the attorney for the child should interview
- Reasons why the other parent should not get custody
- Specific instances where the other parent has come up short
- Teachers, doctors, or therapists the attorney for the child should speak to
- The suitability of your home for your child’s needs
- Your child’s schedule and how you manage it
- Your child’s unique needs and the ways you meet them
- Your integral role in your child’s life
The attorney for the child can be your best ally or not in a custody case. If you approach them with frankness and amicability, you can establish a good relationship and help them see your perspective.