Kids First is the only organization in Iowa with a mission to provide free and reduced-cost representation to children in divorce and custody cases. Kids First’s three attorneys together represent approximately 150 kids in high-conflict family law cases each year.

Why do kids need a lawyer?
In high-conflict custody disputes, litigation often lasts years and children frequently witness fighting between parents. Exposure to parents’ fights and badmouthing each other puts children at risk to:

  • Suffer from severe behavioral and emotional problems
  • Fail in school
  • Abuse drugs and alcohol
  • Have failed relationships as adults

A majority of Kids First families are struggling with domestic violence, substance abuse, and/or mental health issues. Kids need a trusted, neutral person they can confide in. Often, a Kids First attorney is the only professional working one-on-one with a child. A child’s attorney can help keep everyone’s focus on the child’s needs and concerns.

What is the role of a Kids First attorney?
The court appoints Kids First when parental conflict threatens a child’s well-being. The attorney remains involved with each child until the case is concluded, often a year or longer. During that time, the Kids First attorneys:

  • Meet regularly with the child client
  • Consult with the child’s teacher(s)
  • Link families to community resources
  • Collaborate with other professionals such as counselors
  • Facilitate dispute resolution by parents
  • Work to keep the child out of the conflict
  • Advocate the child’s position in court

Does anyone else do this work?
No other agency in Iowa represents children in these cases for free. Without Kids First, many children would not have a voice in their parents’ dispute. 

When should a child have a lawyer?
Children may benefit from an advocate when there is:

  • A high level of conflict between parents
  • A child with strong views
  • Family violence, drug/alcohol issues, or mental health problems
  • Child abuse/neglect
  • Inappropriate adult influence or manipulation
  • Interference with custody or parenting time
  • A child who is expected to be called as a witness

Which cases does Kids First accept?
Kids First provides representation to children in cases that fit the following criteria:

  • Child is 6 to 16 years old
  • Child resides in Linn or Johnson County (when resources are available, Kids First accepts child clients who live in Benton, Iowa, or Jones County)
  • A divorce, custody, or modification case is pending
  • The case is high-conflict or some other factor warrants Kids First’s involvement
  • At least 3 months remain before trial is scheduled

Who pays for these services?
Kids First is a nonprofit organization funded primarily by individual donations and grants. Although Kids First attorneys are court-appointed, no state or federal funding is provided. Children receive free representation when their families meet income guidelines. For higher income families, Kids First provides services on a sliding fee scale.

What are the benefits of working with Kids First?
Children have less anxiety when they know what to expect and have a trusted adult to confide in. When kids are freed from worrying about parents fighting, kids can be kids again. They can return their focus to school, activities, and friends.

Parents learn how to lessen conflict and improve communication. Kids First helps parents understand their child’s perspective. Cases are more likely to settle when a child’s attorney is involved, avoiding the cost and stress of trial. Parents who settle are also less likely to return to court later. In cases that go to trial, Kids First can help judges make more fully-informed decisions.