Last Updated on March 12, 2023 by Benson Varghese
When parents are embroiled in a bitter dispute about child custody, visitation, or support, they sometimes lose sight of what’s in the best interest of the child. To make sure this doesn’t happen, Texas courts often appoint an amicus attorney and/or an attorney ad litem to advocate on behalf of the child.
While both amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem share some similarities, they actually have very different roles and responsibilities. Still, it’s easy to get the two confused. In this article, we will discuss the roles of an amicus attorney and an attorney ad litem and their importance in contentious Texas family law cases.
Perhaps the easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that an amicus attorney assists the court, while an attorney ad litem represents the child.
Still perplexed? Keep reading.
What is an amicus attorney in a Texas family case?
Under Section 107.001 of the Texas Family Code, an amicus attorney is appointed by the court to “provide legal services necessary to assist the court in protecting the child’s best interests rather than to provide legal services to the child.”
Put simply, an amicus attorney serves as the eyes and ears of the judge.
An amicus attorney is a lawyer appointed by the court to provide impartial and objective information to the court on issues related to the child. Their primary responsibility is to investigate and evaluate the circumstances surrounding the child and report back to the judge presiding over the case. Their independent investigation may include interviewing the child and parents, reviewing documents and records, and speaking with experts such as psychologists, social workers, and medical professionals.
Once their investigation is complete, the amicus attorney reports their findings and makes recommendations to the court based on protecting the best interests of the child or children involved. It is up to the judge to make the final decision about what would be most beneficial for the child.
It’s important to point out that the amicus attorney does not represent either party in the case, nor can they provide legal advice to the parties involved.
What is an attorney ad litem in a Texas family case?
Under Section 107.001 of the Texas Family Code, an attorney ad litem is defined as an attorney who provides legal services to a person, including a child, and gives their “undivided loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation.”
Put simply, an attorney ad litem – also referred to as an AAL – is the child’s lawyer.
An attorney ad litem is a lawyer appointed by the court to independently represent the child and his or her wishes. The attorney’s loyalty is to the child, not to their parents or anyone else. As such, the attorney must keep the child’s interests in mind at all times – and also abide by attorney-client privilege, and keep information shared by the child confidential.
The attorney ad litem is responsible for interviewing the child and relevant parties; conducting home visits; reviewing copies of school, medical and other relevant records; and determining the child’s wishes and how to best present them to the court. An attorney ad litem is also responsible for providing advice and counsel to the child and will also represent the child in court, if necessary. In short, they are the child’s voice.
When can an amicus attorney and/or attorney ad litem be appointed?
The court has the authority to appoint an amicus attorney in any family case where it is deemed necessary. An amicus attorney can be appointed on the court’s own motion or upon the request of a party to the case.
Likewise, an attorney ad litem can be appointed at any point during the legal proceedings and also at the request of either party or on the judge’s own motion.
When making decisions on whether to appoint an amicus and/or attorney ad litem, the court will consider various factors, including the complexity of the case and the needs of the child or children involved.
Can an amicus attorney or attorney ad litem be appointed in cases not related to child custody, support, or visitation?
Yes, an amicus attorney or an attorney ad litem can be appointed in other family law cases, such as those related to adoptions, termination of parental rights, or those involving Child Protective Services (CPS).
Who pays for the services of an amicus attorney or attorney ad litem in Texas?
It depends. It is entirely up to the judge. The parties involved in the case may be ordered to split the fees or the court may order one of the parties to pay for the attorney’s fees.
Can a judge appoint an amicus attorney and an attorney ad litem in the same case?
Yes, in Texas, it is possible for a judge to appoint both an amicus attorney and an attorney ad litem in the same case involving a child. As discussed, an amicus attorney is appointed to protect the child’s interests and provide recommendations to the court. An attorney ad litem is appointed to represent the child and his or her wishes and best interests.
The judge may appoint both types of attorney if they believe it is necessary to ensure that the child’s interests are fully protected and represented in the legal process. Ultimately, the decision of whether to appoint both types of attorneys is within the discretion of the court.
Having said that, in Tarrant County, it is uncommon for both to be appointed in the same case. Generally speaking, an attorney ad litem is often appointed in cases where CPS is involved so that the child’s voice is heard. An amicus attorney is traditionally appointed in child litigation cases where CPS is not involved.
Family law cases involving children can be emotionally charged and complex. And while courts can – and often do – appoint amicus attorneys and attorney ad litems, those lawyers don’t take the place of an experienced family law attorney representing a parent.
At Varghese Summersett Family Law Group, we have extensive experience in helping clients navigate the complexities of Texas family law cases. If you are facing a contentious child custody, support, visitation, or modification, our team can guide you through every step of the process. Call 817-900-3220 to schedule an appointment with an experienced Fort Worth child custody attorney.