Michigan Child Abuse and
Child Neglect Attorneys
This is a question often asked in Child Protective Proceedings. It is common for children to want to talk to the judge in their case. It is equally common for children to be totally excluded from a process that may well impact them for the rest of their lives. There are two types of Child Protective Proceedings in Michigan. First there are delinquency proceedings, where children are accused of committing crimes. In a delinquency proceeding, the children are almost always present for the court hearing and the Michigan Court Rules grant them the right to participate. The second type is the Neglect/Abuse proceeding. In this type of case, the Judge has discretion to excuse the child if the child’s interest requires.
Interestingly enough, there are times when the same child has an interest in both types of proceedings at the same time arising out of the same facts. An example of this is when the child is accused of committing a crime against another child in the home. A delinquency proceeding may commence against the accused child, while the parent is accused in a Neglect/Abuse case with failure to protect the other child. The standard practice in Michigan is that children are not involved in the proceedings of a Neglect/Abuse case unless their testimony is needed by another party’s attorney, such as the Prosecutor or a parent’s attorney. So, a child facing this two case scenario would come to court every time in the criminal case and potentially be shut out of the case in which the future of his or her family will be determined. Since many juvenile criminal cases have nominal consequences, this often means that the child does not participate in court proceedings that will have a significant impact on his/her life, while being forced to participate in proceedings with a nominal impact.
Most attorneys and judges would agree that there are proceedings that should not occur with children present. An obvious example would be where very sensitive testimony is being given by another child, such as in cases of sexual abuse. Another example is when the court is hearing testimony that puts a parent in a bad light, like when there is a contested hearing regarding the psychological fitness of a parent.
People involved in Child Protective Proceedings need to remember that neglect/abuse cases are adversarial proceedings. This means that there will be times when attorneys openly contest the implication of sensitive information through the presentation of evidence, through the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and through arguments that may be difficult for adult litigants to sit through.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that many children who are old enough to participate and have strong opinions are often not allowed to share those opinions with the judge. Courts generally look at the Lawyer Guardian Ad Litem (LGAL) as the voice for the child in the courtroom. Unfortunately for a child wanting to be heard in the courtroom, the LGAL does not represent the child the way a lawyer typically functions. A lawyer has the role of guiding the client and advocating for the position taken by the client once fully informed on the factual and legal issues of the case. The LGAL has a different role. The LGAL is given the function of determining the best interest of the child and then advocating for that result, regardless of the wishes of the child. So, a 13 year-old may desperately want to reunify with a parent only to find that the LGAL does not take that position in court. In that instance, Michigan law does allow for the child to obtain a CPS defense attorney that will function as the attorney for the child in the conventional sense rather than as a Guardian Ad Litem. In this scenario, there would be two attorneys for the child, one of whom represents the child’s expressed desires and one of whom may take a contrary position. However, this still leaves the child excluded from the courtroom in many instances.
Many attorneys and child welfare organizations believe that it is best practice to include the child in court proceedings in cases that affect their future, as long as the child is of sufficient age. In Michigan, this is a topic of intense debate amongst child welfare professionals. If you have a child who wants to be heard in the courtroom, your attorney should help make that happen. Under Michigan Court Rules, a child is a party and should not be excused unless there is a judicial finding that the child’s best interest requires doing so. Many hearings in neglect/abuse cases are contested evidentiary hearings. This means that your attorney can simply subpoena the child to come to court and testify. Judges have differing views on child participation so the outcome may depend on the views of the judge in your case.
If you need to discuss your case, you can Contact a child protective attorney online today, or during office hours call 866-346-5879.