Getting a Lawyer Appointed for Your Child
Getting a Lawyer Appointed for Your Child
- Does your child need a lawyer?
- What would your child's lawyers do?
- Who pays for my child's lawyer?
- How do I ask for a lawyer to be appointed?
- What do I do at the court hearing
- The Hearing (if you do not have an agreement)
- Sample - Motion for Appointment For Minor Children
This information can help you if a divorce, custody or visitation case is pending in a Connecticut court and you and the other parent disagree about custody or visitation rights. If your child is involved in a Juvenile Court case (abuse/neglect, delinquency or Family with Service Needs), a judge will automatically appoint a lawyer for your child or you can hire one.
The first thing to remember is this: You have the right to ask a judge to appoint a lawyer for your child. The judge will decide if a lawyer will be appointed or not. If you and the child's other parent agree on everything concerning custody or visitation of the child, you won't need to ask for a lawyer for your child.
You may want to ask for a lawyer for your child if:
- you and the other parent disagree on custody or visitation; or
- you are concerned about the safety of your child, child abuse, or domestic violence, etc.; or
- there is a question about the child's paternity.
A judge may:
- appoint a lawyer without either party requesting one.
- send the case to Family Services (sometimes called Family Relations) for an evaluation. (See Legal Aid's pamphlet: Custody Disputes.)
Or instead of asking for (or hiring) a lawyer you may want to:
- ask for an evaluation from Family Services (as an alternative to the expense of lawyer). Family Services will meet with the child or observe the child with the parents. Family Services will try to do what is in the best interests of the child.
The judge will appoint a person who is a lawyer as either attorney or Guardian-ad-litem (GAL). Ask the judge which one will be appointed for your child.
If the lawyer is appointed as "guardian ad litem" (GAL), he or she will tell the court what he/she thinks is in the best interests of a child.
If the lawyer is appointed as "attorney," he/she will work in court to represent what your child wants. The "attorney" has a dual role-- not only to represent the wishes of the child but also to serve the best interests of the child. The attorney will usually take more of a GAL role if the child is very young and more of an advocacy role if the child is older.
In either role, the goal of best interests of the child is sought. Each may make recommendations to both sides about how to resolve the conflict to meet the child's needs and/or wishes.
The lawyer will use his/her own judgment and may not agree with you on issues concerning your child. Remember, the lawyer represents your child--not you.
The lawyer may do any (or all) of the following:
- meet with your child in the child's home, at least once (more if necessary) and learn the child's feelings, wishes and beliefs;
- meet with you, the other parent, teachers, daycare providers, doctors and others who are familiar with the child as part of the lawyer's evaluation of the case and your child's situation;
- meet with the child in the home of the non-custodial parent;
- review all medical records and reports related to the case;
- seek physical or mental health evaluations when appropriate;
- participate in hearings in the case that are related to your child;
- maintain contact with your child until the case is over.
- make the child available to the lawyer and keep appointments;
- sign releases for information sharing;
- remember that the lawyer is not a social worker and cannot deal with every problem; he/she cannot make parental decisions. Note: you will be charged for all contacts with the child's lawyer (unless the court has ordered that the lawyer to be paid at state rates).
- know that the lawyer will use his/her own judgment and may not agree with you on issues concerning your child. Remember, the lawyer represents your child--not you.
Both parents are usually responsible for paying the child's legal fees, with the cost split according to each parent's ability to pay. If the court decides that the parties are unable to pay the fees, the court may order the State to pay the fees. Ultimately, each parent is responsible for any legal fees from this process. Legal fees are based on the time the lawyer spends on the case. You will be charged for all contacts with the child's lawyer.
Fill out and file paperwork with the court. You can get most forms at the court clerk's office and on the State's judicial website (www.jud.ct.gov).
- Fill out a Motion to ask for a lawyer to be appointed.
- If your case is still pending and no final orders have been issued by the court, fill out and file a Motion for Orders before Judgment (JD-FM-176).
- If final orders have been issued, you have two Motions to file. Fill out and file a Motion for Modification (JD-FM-174) before filing a Motion for the Appointment of Counsel for Minor Children (included below). The first Motion is needed because there must be a pending court case before the court can appoint a lawyer for your child. (See Legal Aid's pamphlets: How to Modify Custody Orders and How to Modify and Enforce Visitation Orders).
- If final orders were issued, you will have to pay a $125 fee to open the case. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver. (Ask the court clerk for help or see Legal Aid's pamphlet: A Guide to Fee Waivers.)
- Fill out an Appearance (JD-CL-12) if you have not yet done so. Make a copy. The clerk cannot accept your Motion unless you have filed an appearance.
- Make copies of your Motion(s) for everyone in the case, including every lawyer. After you send out the copies, go to the court where your case is pending and file your Motion with the clerk.
- When you get the hearing notice from the court in the mail, write down the date and time of the hearing. The notice will be a "court calendar." To find the hearing date and time, first look for a number on the envelope above your address. This number is the position number of your case on the calendar. Second, find your name on the calendar and note the column number at the bottom of the paper. (The court clerk may need the column number later). Third, follow the instructions at the top of the calendar on the first page. Some instructions will tell you to call the court and the other party by a certain date to say you want to go ahead with your Motion.
- Fill out and file a Financial Affidavit (JD-FM-6). The judge will need to review this form to make orders for paying the lawyer's fees for the child. (See Legal Aid's pamphlet: A Guide to Financial Affidavits).
- It's a good idea to arrive about 20 minutes before the hearing. It may take a while to get through security. Hint: Going to court can be stressful. The more upset and tired you are, the more stressful it is. In spite of your stress, try to listen carefully. Try not to lose your temper or bring up old arguments. The calmer you are, the more the judge will listen to your answers and take you seriously.
- Go to the court clerk's office and ask the clerk how the court starts the day (called "opening" the court). Courts operate differently--some courts open with a "calendar call" (where the names of the cases are read out loud in the courtroom) while others do not call cases. If you do not have an agreement with the other party or you need help writing down the agreement you have, ask the clerk about signing up on the Family Relations list. (See below.)
If you do not have an agreement, say, "Ready," when your name is called. You will probably have to meet with Family Relations to try and work out an agreement.
If you do have an agreement, say, "Ready with an agreement," and follow the judge’s instructions. The judge may take agreements after calendar call.
Important: Agreements do not change a court order until the judge approves/accepts the agreement and makes it an order of the court. Once the judge decides, you have to accept and follow that court order.
NO Calendar Call
If you do not have an agreement, find your name and room assignment on the list which is posted in the lobby. Then go directly to your assigned room to meet with Family Relations. Put your name on the Family Relations list.
If you do have an agreement, see the court clerk. You may need to fill out a Memo to the Clerk form to let the court know you are ready to present your agreement to the judge.
Meeting with Family Relations
A meeting is only needed if you do not have an agreement or you need help writing it down. The Family Relations Officer will ask both of you questions and try to help you reach an agreement. He/she may make a recommendation to both of you about how to settle your disagreement. You do not have to accept this recommendation. Although the recommendation may be similar to what a judge might order, the judge might order something different. If you still have not reached an agreement after this meeting, you will have a hearing where you present your case to the judge.
- If you do have an agreement after meeting with Family Relations,
- Write down the agreement. Both parties must sign it.
- You may need to fill out a Memo to the Clerk form. Check the box that says "Ready with an Agreement."
- When your name is called, go to the table in front of the judge. Answer the judge's questions and follow his/her instructions.
- If you do not have an agreement after meeting with Family Relations, you will have a hearing (called an "oral argument") where you will present your side to the judge.
- Go back to the court room. You may need to fill out a Memo to the Clerk form.
- When your name is called, say, “Ready.” Then stand behind one of the tables in the front of the courtroom and follow the judge’s instructions.
- If you filed the Motion, you will present your case first.
- Be polite and respectful of the judge and the other side. The judge will probably require that you be “sworn in.”
- When the judge tells you to speak, say that you want a lawyer appointed to represent your child and explain why you think it is important. Tell why you and the other parent could not agree on things such as visitation and custody. You may also ask the judge to order the state to pay the lawyer's fees.
- Have a completed Financial Affidavit with you. The judge needs it to make orders for who will pay the lawyer's fees for the child.
- You may call witnesses to support what you have said. Both you and the other parent will be able to ask that person questions. Don't get into an argument with witnesses or the other parent as this will create a bad impression of you.
The Judge's Decision
After the case has been presented, the judge will either make a ruling right then or "take the papers" and decide later. If the judge "takes the papers," the court will send you a copy of the decision regarding the appointment of the child's lawyer.
- If the judge grants your Motion, ask whether the lawyer will be acting as an attorney or as a Guardian-ad-litem (GAL). Once a lawyer is appointed, you should contact the lawyer's office to set up an appointment between your child and the lawyer. It would be best to be cooperative and helpful and to give the lawyer the information requested.
- If the judge denies your Motion, you can re-file your Motion at a later date if circumstances change.
|Motion for Appointment of Counsel for Minor Children (pdf)||Order (pdf)|
This booklet was produced by the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut in cooperation with Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, and Statewide Legal Services.
The information in this booklet is based on laws in Connecticut as of 5/2011. We hope that the information is helpful. It is not intended as legal advice for an individual situation. Please call Statewide Legal Services or contact an attorney for additional help.
Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).
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