Children are normally dependent on their parents or guardians to make decisions on their behalf. There are, however, many unfortunate cases in which children are the victims of abuse and/or neglect. Other cases involve children who are caught in the middle of a custody dispute and feel that their wishes are not being heard. In these types of situations, a child does have the right to retain legal representation from a qualified attorney. If the child or the parents cannot afford an attorney, the court must appoint a law guardian to represent the child during the proceedings. These rules are very different than the ones pertaining to adults, who are not entitled to legal representation in a family court proceeding.
A law guardian can be an attorney from a private practice, or an attorney who is a member of the New Jersey Office of Law Guardian (OLG). Like any other attorney, a law guardian serves as the child's advocate by giving legal advice, filing paperwork and providing representation at court hearings. The law guardian must also maintain attorney-client privilege, which prevents attorneys from testifying about private communications that they share with their clients. However, there are some differences in the way that an attorney works with a minor, as opposed to an adult client. While a law guardian fights for the child's interests, he or she must also take into account the best course of action for keeping the child safe.
This responsibility goes a little beyond giving legal advice, but ultimately letting the client decide what to do, which is the standard practice for adults. Children, however, lack the intelligence, maturity and life experiences that are needed to make legal decisions on their own behalf. Thus, a law guardian must advise the child on the course of action that best preserves his or her safety, even if it goes against the child's wishes. On the other hand, a law guardian is not the same as a guardian ad litem, which is a court-appointed individual that makes recommendations on what they believe to be in the child's best interests. A law guardian is simply the child's attorney, who is there to represent the child's interests, which may or may not be in line with the guardian ad litem's recommendations. Furthermore, the child may fire the law guardian if he or she believes that the law guardian's opinion is in conflict with his or her wishes.
If you are under 18 and need advice on a family court proceeding, please consider speaking with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. As a minor, the law entitles you to legal representation, but it can be a challenge to find a compassionate, child-friendly attorney who will respect your wishes. The family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. will be happy to educate you on your rights, while giving you a realistic picture of your legal options. Please schedule a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys.