What Is a Best Interest Attorney?

What Is a Best Interest Attorney? During a particularly contentious child custody case, the court may appoint a “best interest attorney” for the child. This attorney does not represent either parent, but advocates for the child’s interests and the child alone. Best interest attorneys must represent the interests of their client, complete an independent evaluation, and advocate the position concerning custody that is in their client’s—the child’s—best interests.

It is possible, and common, for the best interest attorney to take a position that may end up being disputed or contested by either or both parents. However, it is important to remember that this type of attorney is not working for the parents.

Responsibilities of a best interest attorney

So what exactly does a best interest attorney (BIA) do? Their duties are much different than a lawyer who might represent either spouse in a divorce case. The court appoints a BIA to protect a child’s best interests and advocate for them in front of the court. Reasons the court might appoint a BIA include:

  • Allegations of neglect or abuse
  • One party has significant mental, emotional, or psychological issues
  • There is profound parental estrangement
  • The child has opinions they need to express without influence from either parent
  • The court has ordered a custody evaluation
  • Cases with an extensive history of litigation
  • There is a high level of conflict between parents
  • The fitness of one parent is under question

A BIA advocates for the child’s best interests—which may not necessarily be what the child wants. The BIA conducts a thorough investigation of everything related to the case. Things a BIA should look into include social services records, existing court files, as well as interview friends and family, case workers, neighbors, school personnel, physicians, clergy, law enforcement, and other potential witnesses to facts relevant to the case. They should also be able to explain their role in the case clearly and in an age-appropriate manner to the child, so that the child understands the attorney is working for their best interests.

Isn’t every attorney a best interest attorney?

Not all lawyers are best interest attorneys (also called guardian ad litem in some jurisdictions). To become a best interest attorney, one must be appointed by the Circuit Court of Maryland. Attorneys must complete a mandatory course of specialized training and have comprehensive experience in family law and child custody matters, as well as an excellent reputation with the Court. Both Heather McCabe and Emily Russell of McCabe Russell, PA are certified best interest attorneys.

BIAs are impartial—to the parents and sometimes even to the wishes of the child. They bring a necessary third perspective to high-conflict custody cases where a minor’s best interests and even safety may be at risk.

At McCabe Russell, PA, we understand that children need someone to advocate for them. Our family law attorneys in Columbia can be trusted to help protect the best interests of your children. To speak with an experienced lawyer serving Howard County clients today, please call 443-812-1435 or fill out our contact form. We also maintain offices in Bethesda, Rockville and Fulton.