An Attorney for the Child, also commonly referred to as an “AFC”, can be appointed by the Court to represent any child (from birth to 21 years of age) who is subject to a Family Court Petition. Empowered by the Family Court Act, an AFC gives the child a voice in family legal disputes. The Attorney for the Child is literally that: they represent the child’s wishes and feelings directly, and not those of the child’s parents. The attorney has the same ethical and legal responsibilities to the child as they would to an adult client.What Does an Attorney for the Child Do?
An Attorney for the Child, formerly known as a Law Guardian, can assist New York children in the following types of cases:
- Foster care
- Juvenile delinquency
- A person in Need of Supervision (PINS)
Just like with an adult client, the role of an Attorney for the Child is to represent the client’s wishes and interests in a court case. Their services include:
- Conducting an investigation to gather all information pertinent to the child’s case
- Speaking with the child about their wishes, concerns, and objectives
- Explaining the child’s legal options to them and ensuring that they fully understand the impact of their decision
- Presenting the child’s interests to the Court
The most important aspect of the attorney’s role is that they represent the child and not the child’s parents.
Attorney for the Child and the “Best Interest of the Child” Standard
Typically, family court cases are guided by the “best interest of the child” standard: the legal system strives to, by weighing several factors, resolve the case in such a way as to protect the child and their best interests. In Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”) cases, for example, the representative gives a personal recommendation to the Court about what outcome is in the child's best interest. Unlike a GAL, the AFC voices the child’s wishes regardless of whether the Attorney for the Child thinks that what the child wants is what is best for them.
There is an important exception to the attorney representing the child’s wishes: if the Attorney for the Child believes that their client lacks the knowledge or capacity to make a decision, or if the child’s wishes will place them in substantial risk of imminent and/or serious harm, the attorney can take a position that is contrary to the child’s wishes. However, the attorney still has the ethical and legal responsibility to inform the Court of the child’s wishes.
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