Family cases involving children are often the most difficult legal disputes. As a lawyer who has represented children for over 15 years, I have seen how heartrending cases are for everyone involved. A judge’s decision will have a profound impact on a child’s future. But there are some very important reasons why a court will have to intervene in a child’s life:
- A baby could have been injured deliberately by their parents or a third party and it is necessary to find out who was responsible
- When parents cannot agree, a judge may need to decide which parent the child should live with, how much contact they should have with the other parent, which school a child should attend or if a parent should be allowed to take their child abroad
Who Represents The Children?
Courts recognise how important it is to give children a voice in proceedings. In cases involving social services or complex disputes over children, the court normally appoints a guardian, an independent social worker employed by CAFCASS (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), to represent a child.
The guardian then appoints an independent solicitor to represent the child. The lawyer has to be a member of the Law Society’s Accredited Children Panel.
This lawyer will have had to demonstrate that they have the experience, knowledge and can adhere to the highest standards of best practice.
As part of the code of conduct that all children’s lawyers obey, each solicitor has given their commitment to deal with each case personally from the preparation of the court papers, to meeting the children and representing them at the court hearing.
What Skills Are Required to Represent a Child?
- You can’t become a member of the Law Society’s Accredited Children Panel without being able to prove that you have the requisite legal knowledge and experience. Every three years, a lawyer has to demonstrate that they continue to do a high amount of children’s cases and that they have maintained their knowledge through attending regular training courses.
- Being sensitive, constructive and non-confrontational is essential. It is vital to understand that every decision that a court makes about a child and the welfare of that child is at the core of its decision making.
- It is crucial to be able to see the problem from the child’s perspective – what is in their interests and why? How does the child feel about the dispute? What do they want to tell the judge? The young person is often aware that their parents are arguing over them and just wants the arguments to stop. No two children are the same and each child’s case is unique to them.
- It is often necessary to work collaboratively with the adults involved in the dispute. It can be helpful to explain to the parents how it looks and feels from the child’s perspective. Getting the parents to realise how their words and actions are affecting their offspring can often lead to changes in their behaviour and a successful outcome for the whole family.
- Finally, the most important role is representing the child at court. Through meetings with the child and by discussing the case fully with the child’s guardian, the lawyer will present the case to the court. The judge will want to understand the child’s wishes and be guided as to the best welfare outcome for the young person. Sometimes, depending on the child’s age, the lawyer will also take the young person to meet with the judge.
There is a growing recognition by judges that the voices of children have to be heard more powerfully in court.
There are soon to be rule changes in the Family Court’s procedures to ensure that the children have greater prominence in the decision making process.
The best children’s lawyer will make sure that any child will be centre stage and will work to assist all the adults in the child’s life to make the best possible outcome.
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