A Best Interest Attorney, also known as a BIA, is an attorney appointed by the Court for the purpose of protecting a child’s best interest. A BIA is not bound by a child’s “directives or objectives.” Maryland Rule 9-205.1 governs the appointment of an attorney for a child. There are also Maryland Guidelines for Practice for Court-Appointed Attorneys Representing Children in Cases Involving Child Custody or Child Access.
When should I consider having a Best Interest Attorney appointed?
While every case is fact-specific, a Best Interest Attorney is normally appointed in the following situations:
- Request of a party
- High level of conflict
- Inappropriate adult influence or manipulation (alienation)
- Past or current child abuse or neglect
- Past or current mental health problems of a child or party
- Special physical, educational, or mental health needs of a child that require investigation or advocacy
- Actual or threatened family violence
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Relocation that reduces a child’s time with a parent
Can an attorney be appointed to represent a child for other reasons?
Child Privilege Attorney (CPA): An attorney appointed by the Court to determine whether to assert or waive any privilege that a child might have. A CPA is usually appointed in cases where a child is receiving treatment for a mental health condition. The CPA’s role is to determine whether or not to assert or waive a child’s mental health privilege with his or her therapist, as parents in a custody case are not permitted to assert or waive a privilege on behalf of their child. In many cases, a BIA is also permitted to assert or waive a privilege on behalf of a child.
Child Advocate Attorney: An attorney appointed by the Court to provide an independent attorney for a child. Unlike a BIA who is not bound by what a child wants, a Child Advocate Attorney owes the child the same duties of loyalty, confidentiality and competency that the attorney owes to an adult client. A Child Advocate Attorney may be appointed when a child needs a voice in court, such as in relocation cases, when there are allegations of child abuse, or when the child is sufficiently mature and his or her interests are different from those of his or her parents.
What does a Best Interest Attorney do?
- Meets with and interviews the child
- Determines whether or not a child has considered judgment
- If a BIA’s position is different from the child’s position, informs the Court of the child’s position
- Investigates the abilities of the parents
- Visits the child in each home
- Interviews the parents and witnesses
- Observes the child’s interactions with each parent
- Reviews relevant records (educational, medical, mental health, etc.)
- Interviews teachers, childcare providers, health care professionals, etc.
- Files court pleadings and motions
- Participates in pretrial discovery
- Participates in settlement negotiations
- Participates at trial – calls witnesses, presents evidence, makes arguments. A BIA does not testify or file a report.
Who pays for the Best Interest Attorney? Generally, each parent is responsible for half of the fees for the court appointed attorney.
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