What Does The Child's Advocate Mean?
Depending upon your age, it is likely that you have heard the words “lawyer” and “attorney” before, but it is equally likely that you never imagined yourself having an attorney as a child. After all, the attorneys you are familiar with are probably those you have seen in movies or television shows or those you have heard about from your parents or other adults in your life. It is completely understandable to have questions at this point about why you have an attorney and about what it means for you to have an attorney. The good news is that you can find the answers to some of your questions right here.
Question: Why do I need an attorney?
Answer: A judge has decided that he or she wants to learn more about you, about your needs, and about a living arrangement and visitation schedule that would be most suitable to you. The judge has probably already heard a lot from the adults who are involved in your life, but he or she really wants to hear your perspective, which is where your attorney comes into the picture. Your attorney will work hard to get to know you and to learn more about your situation so that he or she can help the judge to better understand your needs and desires.
Question: How will an attorney know what is best for me?
Answer: An attorney who is appointed to represent you will not be determining what is best for you. Instead, the attorney who is appointed to represent you will work with you to come to an understanding of what you believe to be best for you with respect to your living arrangement and visitation schedule. In order to develop an understanding of your wishes, your attorney will speak with many of the people who play a significant role in your life, but more importantly, your attorney will speak with you and spend a good deal of time with you.
Question: Will my attorney tell my parents or the other adults in my life everything I say?
Answer: No. The information that you share with your attorney is confidential. What this means is that while your attorney will use the information you provide in order to develop a strategy and to argue for what it is that you want, your attorney will not be telling anyone (other than people who work together with your attorney to assist with your case) what you have said unless you have given your attorney permission to do so. It is important that you speak as openly and honestly with your attorney as possible so that your attorney can have a clear picture of your goals.
Question: Will my attorney require me to testify in court?
Answer: No, your attorney will not require you to testify in court if that is something that you do not want to do. In fact, in many cases, the children never set foot inside the courthouse. That being said, if your attorney believes, after learning more about you and the facts of your case, that it would be wise for you to speak with the judge, your attorney will thoroughly discuss the pros and cons with you and work with you to come to a decision that is comfortable for you.
Question: Now that I have an attorney, will the judge do whatever I want?
Answer: First of all, your attorney will work with the adults in your life and their attorneys, if they have them, to try to come to an agreement about your living arrangement and visitation schedule without leaving it up to the judge to decide. If your attorney is not able to convince the adults in your life to agree to living arrangements that are desirable to you, the decision will ultimately be made by the judge. While your attorney will work hard to ensure that the judge understands not only your position, but also the reasons behind it, that does not mean that the judge will always do exactly as you want them to do. The judge will consider many factors, including what you want, in coming to a decision.
Question: Are there any books that could help me understand what I am going through?
Answer: Yes, there are many books for children of different ages that you might find helpful. Here are a few:
My Life Turned Upside Down, But I Turned It Right Side Up by Mary Blitzer Field and Hennie Share, and Families by Meredith Tax are appropriate options for children approximately ages 7-9.
How to Get It Together When Your Parents Are Coming Apart by Arlene Richards and Irene Willis, and Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt address the experience in a way that could speak to some teenagers.