Gevurtz Menashe

PDX 503.227.1515
WA 360.823.0410

Children & the Law

Juvenile Law
Gevurtz Menashe has highly experienced attorneys who represent minors, parents, or guardians in family law, juvenile court, and probate proceedings involving children. We can help navigate the sometimes complex legal systems and issues involving children, including when multiple courts or jurisdictions are involved.

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Juvenile law attorneys in Oregon

When allegations are made that a child has been neglected, abused, or that the child’s parents are unable to provide appropriate care because of alcohol, drug use, or mental health issues, the state may intercede. When the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) becomes involved, it can impact all family members. DHS will investigate the child’s situation and assess whether further intervention is needed. This may involve interviews with the child, the child’s parents, siblings and other relatives or caregivers. Depending on the situation, the child’s mental and physical health may be evaluated, the child may be placed in protective custody, and the parents or caretaker may even face criminal investigation, arrest or even criminal charges.

Such allegations can be especially complicated if they arise in the context of a divorce, custody dispute, or restraining order proceeding. In such situations, parents or other responsible adults in the child’s life should seek legal advice immediately. An attorney can help explain what to expect, discuss options, and help make referrals to other appropriate professionals.

Attorney For The Child

In most legal proceedings attorneys represent adults. In some family law and juvenile court situations, however, children also have lawyers. In situations where an attorney is appointed to represent a child, it is the child, not the child’s parent, who is the lawyer’s client.

In family law cases in Oregon, a child’s attorney is required to be appointed if the child makes a written request to the judge. Attorneys for a child may also be appointed at the request of a party or simply because the judge thinks it’s a good idea. A child’s attorney may also be hired directly by an adult interested in the family law proceeding.  In juvenile law cases where issues of abuse or neglect have been raised, courts often appoint an attorney to represent the child, whether or not a request is made for an attorney. A juvenile court may also appoint a “court appointed special advocate” (“CASA”) to the case, but a CASA is not an attorney for the child.

Attorneys for children approach that representation in different ways, depending on the type of case and the child-client’s ability to communicate their goals and objectives. How the attorney represents the child can also vary depending on the child’s age and mental development and the way the individual judge in the case interprets the attorney’s role. Regardless, an attorney for the child must still adhere to the rules that all attorneys are required to follow.

Any attorney appointed to represent a child in a family law or juvenile law case needs to determine what kind of representation is appropriate for their individual child-client. There are at least two types of advocacy in representing child clients, often described as “best interest representation” and “express wishes representation”.  In “best interest representation” the child’s attorney will present to the court what the attorney thinks is in the child’s best interest.  This type of representation is often provided when the child is too young to understand what their options are or to communicate their preferences in a meaningful way to their attorney.  In “express wishes representation,” the attorney will discuss the options with their client in language appropriate for the client’s development and maturity, and advocate for what the client wants, whether or not the attorney believes it is in the client’s best interest. Express wishes representation is closer to what an attorney does in representing adult clients; the attorney will discuss options and try to guide the client, but in the end will advocate for what the client tells the attorney he wants.

Delegation of Guardianship of Minors

There are a number of circumstances in which it might be appropriate for a non-parent to have temporary or even permanent legal authority and responsibility for a child.  For example, responsible parents may want to temporarily delegate certain legal decision-making regarding their child to a relative or other responsible adult while the parents are away (e.g. to make emergency healthcare decisions).   In other situations where more long-term responsibility is necessary, legal guardianship may provide the structure and authority necessary to provide for a child whose parents are unable to do so due to mental health issues, substanceabuse concerns or other similar circumstances.  Guardianship may also be appropriate if a child’s parents have both died or one parent has died and the other is unknown or has not played a significant role in the child’s life.

An individual who assumes the role of a child’s legal guardian takes on a number of important responsibilities: guiding the child’s physical and mental growth and development, providing care and nourishment, protecting the child from harm and ensuring the child receives an appropriate education.  These are similar to the responsibilities of a parent with legal custody.  A guardian, however, receives their legal authority by virtue of appointment by the court and is accountable to the court.  Periodic written reports from the guardian to the court may be required in certain circumstances.

In Oregon and Washington, both biological relatives and non-relatives can be appointed by a court as a child’s guardian, either with or without parental approval.  Usually this involves a situation in which someone other than a legal parent has participated in a significant way in raising the child.  In order to establish a legal guardianship over the objection of a legal parent, the proposed guardian must file the appropriate legal documents and provide the appropriate notice to other relatives and significant adults in the child’s life.  The proposed guardian may also have to prove a number of things, including that the child’s legal parent is unable or unwilling to act in the child’s best interest.  

Third Party Custody or Visitation

In Troxel v. Granville, the United States Supreme Court determined that grandparents don’t have any special legal right to contact or spend time with their grandchildren simply because they are grandparents.  If a parent objects to contact between a child and the child’s grandparent, the grandparent must be able to show that they have had certain kinds of meaningful contact with the child over specific times in the past, and that the parent is not acting in the child’s best interest in restricting further contact.  Both Oregon and Washington have codified this decision into laws which allow both grandparents and other non-related adults who have established certain significant relationships with a child to apply for contact with the child, even if the child’s parents object. These laws are quite complicated and involve a variety of complex provisions which must be met before a court will order contact between a child and a non-parent over the parent’s objection. Learn more about third party custody and visitation.

Referrals to Other Legal Practitioners:  

If your concern involves children in a family law context, we can talk with you, evaluate the situation, and recommend how to proceed. If other aspects of the law are involved that are outside our expertise, such as criminal proceedings, we will be happy to make appropriate referrals to attorneys who specialize in that area.  

We can help.

Cases concerning children require the best professional representation possible.  If you or your family are faced with such proceedings, call 503-227-1515 or contact us online today to schedule a consultation with an experienced Gevurtz Menashe attorney.

Call our Portland, OR offices at: 503-227-1515
and our Vancouver, WA office at 360-823-0410
or contact us to request a consultation.