While most parents are able to work together, or through their own attorneys, to reach resolutions regarding custody and visitation, there are many that require Court intervention. In custody matters involving the Court, the Court may appoint an attorney representing the minor children.
In Maryland, an attorney may represent a child in various roles:
- Child’s Best Interest Attorney: This is an attorney whose role is to make an independent assessment of and advocate for the children’s best interests, which may not align with the child’s preferences. The Child’s Best Interest Attorney (“BIA”) will meet with the child and assist the child with understanding in an age-appropriate way what may be happening in the court proceeding. The BIA often reviews school records, medical records, therapeutic records, and may interview the staff from the child’s school, their doctor’s office, their therapist, and other third parties who may provide the BIA with information necessary to determine what may be in the child’s best interest. The BIA is an attorney and will engage in the litigation process just as the attorneys representing the respective parents, but the BIA’s role is limited to custody, visitation, and other parenting time issues only. This role used to be called a “guardian ad litem.”
- Child’s Advocate Attorney: In this role, an attorney provides independent legal counsel to a child and owes the same loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation as an attorney who represents an adult client. A Court may appoint a child’s advocate attorney in specific matters regarding relocation cases, in cases of child abuse, or where the child is sufficiently mature and can distinguish his, her, or their interests from those of the parents. This role used to be called a “child’s attorney.”
- Child’s Privilege Attorney: The most limited type of representation is that of a Child’s Privilege Attorney. This attorney serves to either waive or assert any privilege that a child may have that if said child were an adult, he, she, or they could assert or waive the privilege. This is commonly necessary regarding a patient-therapist privilege. In reaching their decision whether to allow the information to be considered in a custody dispute, the Child’s Privilege Attorney must conclude that the privileged information is so important for a Judge to consider that it outweighs the preservation of the child’s relationship with their trusted mental health professional. This role used to be called a “Nagle v. Hooks attorney. ”
In order to qualify to be a child’s counsel, an attorney must complete specific training and continued legal education. In addition to meeting those qualifications, our attorneys engage in other seminars, workshops, and organizations to further enhance their understanding of child developmental issues and the severe impact of high conflict and trauma on children.
A court may appoint a child’s counsel that is on the Court’s list, or the parties may request a Court to make the appointment for a specific child’s counsel.