When children need a voice in their parent’s custody case, a child custody lawyer can be appointed to advocate for them. A Child's Attorney can give a voice to children who otherwise could be taken advantage of, or not properly heard. The hope is that children will not need to come to Court and testify.
In Maryland, three different types of Child’s Attorneys are appointed for specific reasons: Best Interest Attorneys, Child’s Advocate Attorneys, and Child’s Privilege Attorneys. Here is what you need to know about each of these roles.
BEST INTEREST ATTORNEY
A “Best Interest Attorney," sometimes referred to as a "BIA," represents a child in a custody case. As the name states, their goal is to advocate what is in the best interest of the child to the Court. In this capacity, the Best Interest Attorney will make an independent determination as to what custody arrangements are best for the child, even if it is different than what the child wants. However, the Best Interests Attorney is duty-bound to tell the Court what the child desires. The Court has no obligation to accept the Best Interest Attorney's or the child’s position on custody. If the judge believes that the child’s best interest aligns with a different custody arrangement, the judge will make his or her own determination. A Best Interest Attorney can be appointed for children of any age, regardless of the child's mental and emotional capacity.
CHILD'S ADVOCATE ATTORNEY
A “Child’s Advocate Attorney” represents a child in a custody case and is bound by the same loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation that are due to an adult client. The Advocate Attorney must advance for what the child wants in terms of custody, even if the Advocate Attorney does not necessarily agree with that position. A Child’s Advocate Attorney is traditionally appointed for children that are older and who are deemed mature enough to make decisions for themselves. The Court will also appoint one if the child’s interests are significantly different from that of the parents.
CHILD'S PRIVILEGE ATTORNEY
A “Child’s Privilege Attorney” represents a child to determine whether that child’s privilege with respect to confidentiality in therapy should be asserted or waived for the child custody case. In a custody case, parents cannot force children or children’s therapists to divulge confidential information divulged in therapy sessions. The Child’s Privilege Attorney helps to determine whether the private information should remain so, or if it is in the child’s best interest that the information be available to the Court. If a parent wants a child's therapist to testify, then a Privilege Attorney needs to be appointed.
Pursuant to Maryland Rule 9-205.1, the Court will consider the following factors when determining whether to appoint a Child’s Attorney:
High level of conflict;
Inappropriate adult influence or manipulation;
Past or current child abuse or neglect;
Past or current mental health problems of the child or party;
Special physical, educational, or mental health needs of the child that require investigation or advocacy;
Actual or threatened family violence;
Alcohol or other substance abuse;
Consideration of terminating or suspending parenting time or awarding custody or visitation to a non-parent; and
A relocation that substantially reduces the child's time with a parent, sibling, or both.
A Child’s Attorney may also be appointed if one or both parties request the appointment. The Court may also consider other factors that are relevant when deciding to appoint a Child’s Attorney.
Laurie M. Wasserman and Steffani L. Langston are certified by the Courts to serve as Child's Attorneys. Contact Wasserman Family Law to receive the experience, expertise, and compassion needed to represent children.