Last Updated on September 12, 2022 by Benson Varghese
When divorce, child custody, or other family matters get contentious or complicated, the judge will often appoint an “Attorney Ad Litem” to represent your child. The attorney is to advocate for the child during legal proceedings and protect his or her interests. Simply put, the attorney ad litem is the child’s attorney. In this article, we are going to explain the role of an attorney ad litem in Texas family law and answer some frequently asked questions.
What is an attorney ad litem in Texas?
The Latin phrase “ad litem” means “for the lawsuit” or “for purposes of legal action.” It is a term that is used in the law to describe someone who is appointed by the court to act on behalf of another person in a legal matter. In Texas family law cases, an attorney ad litem – also referred to as an AAL – is typically appointed to represent a child during a divorce, child custody suit, termination of parental rights, adoption, or other family proceeding.
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.”
In other words, an AAL is appointed to represent the child and act as his or her lawyer – the same as any lawyer would for a paying, adult client. The attorney ad litem’s loyalty is to the child and not to either parent, and he or she must keep the child’s confidences confidential – just as in any attorney-client relationship.
What are the duties of an attorney ad litem in Texas?
According to section 107.003 of the Texas Family Code, a court-appointed attorney ad litem is required to:
* interview the child, the parties in the case, and people who have significant knowledge of the child’s history and condition;
* determine the child’s wishes and figure out the best way to present them to the court;
* investigate the facts of the case;
* obtain and review copies of school, medical, and other relevant records related to the child;
* represent the child in hearings and court proceedings;
* take actions on behalf of the child’s interest that would expedite proceedings;
* encourage settlement and alternative forms of dispute resolution;
* review and sign (or decline to sign) a proposed or agreed order affecting the child;
* attend all legal proceedings.
In short, an attorney ad litem in Texas is appointed to make sure the child is adequately represented in family law proceedings. Divorce and child custody can be extremely hostile and, unfortunately, parents often lose sight of how legal battles are affecting their children. An attorney ad litem can make sure the child’s voice is heard.
How is an attorney ad litem different from a guardian ad litem?
The terms “attorney ad litem” and “guardian ad litem” are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. An attorney ad litem is required to be an attorney and represents the child’s wishes. A guardian ad litem is not required to be an attorney and represent the child’s best interests. Oftentimes, what the child wants – and what is in the best interests of the child – are not the same thing.
Can the same person serve as an attorney ad litem and guardian ad litem?
Yes, in some cases, the judge will appoint an attorney to act as both the guardian ad litem and the attorney ad litem in Texas. If the child’s wishes are different than what is believed to be in the best interest of the child, both will be appointed.
Who pays for the attorney ad litem in Texas?
The short answer is: it depends. Generally, the court will order one or both parents to pay the attorney ad litem fees, but there are some circumstances where the attorney may be paid out of public funds.
When can an attorney ad litem be appointed in Texas?
An attorney ad litem can be appointed at any point during legal proceedings. However, it is most common for an attorney ad litem to be appointed early on in the process – either at the very beginning or after a party has filed a motion requesting one.
If you are involved in a family law case in Texas, it’s important to understand the role of an attorney ad litem and how they can help protect your child’s interests. If you have any questions about an attorney ad litem or your case, contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
Varghese Summersett Family Law Group helps individuals and families navigate emotional family law matters in Fort Worth and the surrounding area. Our team handles divorce, child custody disputes, adoptions, and other legal matters affecting a parent and a child. Call 817-900-3220 to schedule a consultation.