When parents disagree about issues involving their kids—child custody, visitation, rights, duties and the like—those differences need to be hashed out in court or mediation. In some cases, the court, parents, guardians or a government agency may request that a neutral attorney be brought in to help figure out what arrangements would be in the best interest of the child. That’s where amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem come in.
While many of the duties amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem perform are similar, they do play different roles. The main difference is that the attorney ad litem (typically appointed at the request of the parents, a guardian, the judge or the government) represents the child, while the amicus attorney (appointed by the judge) works as an aide to the court.
What does an amicus attorney do in Texas?
While the amicus helps the court protect the best interests of the child, he or she does not have a legal duty to the child the way that an ad litem does. The amicus attorney’s role is to act as the eyes and ears of the judge and make recommendations to the court that he or she believes are in the best interest of the child—NOT to advocate for what the child wants.
These recommendations are based on home visits, interviews with the child, parents and other interested parties (relatives, teachers, doctors, other people who reside with the parents, etc.) and insight garnered during hearings and mediation sessions or through information requests.
What does an attorney ad litem do in Texas?
Along with giving legal guidance to the child (and both of the child’s parents), the attorney ad litem’s duties also include providing undivided loyalty, confidentiality and competent representation. Like the amicus attorney, the attorney ad litem gathers information through home visits, interviews and insight gathered at hearings and mediation.
(Both attorneys ad litem and amicus attorneys can request or subpoena information that sheds light on the child’s circumstances, like school and medical records.)
The big difference is that the ad litem DOES advocate for the child and the child’s wishes, provided those wishes are in the best interest of that child. For example, an amicus might find that dad’s house is not the perfect environment for the child. Perhaps the child has to share a room with a stepsibling and there’s no yard outside to play in, while he gets his own room and a huge yard at mom’s house.
Conversely, an attorney ad litem who represents that child may find that the child wants to live with dad and has good reason to do so. He prefers living with dad because mom is always traveling for work, while dad works from home and is proactive about playtime and learning activities outside the home.
Five important things to know about amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem in Texas
Parents typically pay the attorney’s fees. Unless you’re indigent, you and the other parent will be responsible for paying for the amicus or ad litem’s fees—and they bill based on their hourly rate, which is expensive. The fees may be split equally or the parent with more financial means may be required to pitch in more.
- Your custody case will take longer to finalize. Since the amicus or ad litem perform home visits, conduct numerous interviews, and request and review certain documents, you can typically expect your case to drag on longer.
- Amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem must follow certain rules and fulfill specific duties. We only covered the highlights in this blog. The complete rules and duties are spelled out in Chapter 107 of the Texas Family Code. An experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney can explain how the process works and what information you are and are not obligated to share with the amicus or ad litem appointed to your case.
- Amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem are human. In other words, there is a human component involved that could have an impact on your case. For example, the attorney may lack in experience or misinterpret the information you give them. They may also pump you for information that supports their limited understanding of your case but doesn’t represent the whole picture.
- As with any field, there are “good” ones out there and “bad” ones. That’s why it’s important to hire a divorce attorney who is familiar with the attorneys in your county. We have rejected attorneys ad litem and amicus attorneys on behalf of our clients for a variety of reasons.
- Putting your child’s best interests first should be your top priority. Being proactive about amicable co-parenting is a good place to start, and it’s a great way to avoid the need for an amicus or ad litem in the first place. Unfortunately, some parents would rather make their exes’ lives miserable, which leaves many kids stuck in the middle.
If you end up in a situation where you can’t avoid the involvement of an amicus or ad litem, it’s important that the judge sees (and hears) that your goal is to do what is best for your child. Being difficult or argumentative won’t work in your favor.
Need an experienced child custody attorney in Tarrant County?
The knowledgeable child custody attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth are here to help. We have handled thousands of child custody cases since 2007. Our founder Justin Sisemore has also been actively involved in Tarrant County as both an amicus attorney and attorney ad litem, so he knows what you are up against.
To schedule a confidential case review with Justin, call our office at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.