7 People to Know in New York Child Custody Cases
Your New York custody case may involve many professionals. Below, find a breakdown of what each does.
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Attorney for the child
In some cases, the court appoints an attorney for the child, who acts as a voice for a child too young to articulate wishes and as an advocate for an older child.
Some counties, such as Erie and Dutchess, appoint an attorney for the child in every custody case that goes to trial. Elsewhere, these lawyers are appointed in highly-contentious cases or when there are signs of abuse or neglect.
Attorneys for children litigate for child clients in the same way regular attorneys litigate for adults. They handle paperwork, gather evidence, interact with the court, attend hearings, etc.
The attorney for the child can have a big influence on the judge's decision because of their insight into the child's daily life. The attorney interviews the child, the parents and third parties like teachers to help determine the best custody arrangement.
In divorce cases, the parents are responsible for paying the attorney for the child. The judge can order parents to split the costs evenly or unevenly. In family court, the state can pay for the attorney's services if the parents qualify based on income.
County clerks serve as record keepers for supreme court. They will collect your separation or divorce paperwork.
County clerks are appointed within New York City and elected elsewhere.
The court attorney is a lawyer who helps the judge by conducting legal research and writing decisions. Not to be confused with a court attorney referee, court attorneys do not have the authority to hear cases in place of a judge.
During court proceedings, you and your attorney may meet with a court attorney to discuss the possibility of settlement.
Court attorney referee
Judges can assign court attorney referees to hear entire or partial cases and speed up timelines.
In some counties, referees report their findings to a judge, who makes the final decision.
In other counties, referees can issue court orders themselves, as long as both parents consent in advance. Parents should carefully consider the decision to sign a consent stipulation because changing the referee assignment afterward is difficult.
You may see court clerks when you file paperwork or in the courtroom during your trial.
They have responsibilities beyond record keeping, such as swearing in witnesses and helping the judge prepare orders.
Guardian ad litem
The judge may assign a guardian ad litem (GAL) for a very young or special-needs child or for a parent who can't participate in the court process due to incapacitation or disability.
The guardian's role is to help resolve the case while protecting their client's best interest. A GAL's duties might include helping an adult client understand a proposed parenting plan.
Although GALs are typically lawyers, they are not their client's lawyer. They serve both the court and client, reporting back to the court on each action they perform in their role. If the client would like a lawyer, the GAL can help them find representation.
The judge may ask the GAL to recommend a ruling. If the GAL and client disagree, the court will give more weight to the client's position, so long as it is in the child's best interest.
If a parent repeatedly violates an order made by a magistrate, the magistrate may refer the case to a judge.
The professionals working on your case have many tools on hand. One of them is available to parents, too: Custody X Change.
With a parenting plan template, custody and visitation calendars, a digital journal and beyond, the Custody X Change app makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody and visitation.
Take advantage of the technology the professionals use, and get what's best for your child.