In some child custody cases, the judge may decide that the child needs to have their own representation, separate from the parents. The judge can appoint a lawyer for the child if he decides it’s necessary. There are three types of lawyers that the judge can appoint: a child privilege attorney, a best interest attorney, or a child advocate. Each of these attorneys has a different role in the custody case and has a specific purpose in their representation of the child, but these attorneys are not like a regular attorney. In today’s blog, we go over what a “best interest attorney” is.
In high conflict cases concerning the access a parent will have to a child, a Maryland court can appoint a best interest attorney to independently make a recommendation as to the best interest of the child, these attorneys are commonly referred to as BIAs. The attorney does not represent either parent, but rather the attorney represents the best interest of the child.
When is a BIA appointed?
The Maryland Court Rules allow a judge to appoint a BIA after considering factors such as:
- Request of one or both parties
- 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
- Considerations of terminating or suspending parenting time or awarding custody or visitation to a non-parent
- Relocation that substantially reduces the child’s time with a parent, sibling, or both
How is a BIA different from a retained attorney?
Best Interest v. Client’s Opinion
A BIA advocates for the best interest of the child, which might not necessarily be what the child wants. This is different from the typical attorney client relationship. In most instances, the professional rules require an attorney to follow the wishes of their client. However, the client for a best interest attorney may be the child, but the attorney is allowed to deviate from the client’s wishes if they are not in the child’s best interest. The BIA must consider all relevant information available to them, including when applicable investigations and evaluations by mental health professionals or reports from social services.
Again, unlike a typical attorney client relationship, a BIA can share confidential information that they learn from their client with the court. The BIA is concerned about the well-being of the child.
Advantages of a BIA?
Any attorney is not a BIA. A BIA must have specific training, their job is to independently consider the best interest of the child. A BIA can talk with a child in a more comfortable environment rather than being interviewed by the judge. A BIA can also contact neutral parties and makes independent considerations from the information. A best interest attorney may not testify or be cross-examined in court.
If your family or loved ones are going through a difficult child custody case, it is always helpful to have a better understanding of the process and the roles of the different attorneys. The lawyers are Patriots Law are experienced family law attorneys in Virginia, DC, and Maryland. Call us today for a consultation.