Representing Children in Maryland
Sometimes, a highly contested custody case requires that your child (or children) have their own lawyer. In Maryland, this takes three possible forms: Child Privilege Attorney (“CPA”), Best Interest Attorney (“BIA”), or Child Advocate Attorney (“CAA”). Each of these roles require that the attorney be appointed by court order to represent your child.
Maryland Code, Family Law Article, §1-202 authorizes the court to appoint attorneys to represent children and to allocate the cost between the parties. A lawyer appointed to represent a child is required to exercise ordinary care and diligence in the representation of the child client and to abide by the Guidelines set out in the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure, Appendix 19-D.
Child Privilege Attorney
This is the most limited role. A Child Privilege Attorney is responsible for determining whether your child’s privilege or confidentiality with a mental health professional (such as, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker/LCSW, licensed professional counselor, or other licensed mental health provider) should remain intact or be waived. If privilege is waived, the mental health provider is permitted to testify, disclose his/her file, and share information about your child’s therapy and treatment. If privilege is preserved, then the treatment provider can do none of those things in connection with your case. In Maryland, Courts have determined that parents in a contested custody case do not have the ability to be truly objective when deciding whether or not privilege should be waived on behalf of their children. Therefore, pursuant to Nagle v. Hooks, 296 Md. 123 (1983), the Court appoints an attorney to review the case, speak to the provider, and determine on behalf of your child whether or not this privilege should be waived or preserved.
Best Interest Attorney
The Best Interest Attorney role includes the duties of a Child Privilege Attorney, in addition to making an independent assessment of the legal and physical custody arrangement that is in your child’s best interest and advocating for that before the court on behalf of your child or children. If your child has an opinion on where they should live or who should make decisions on their behalf, the Best Interest Attorney is required to inform the Court of your child’s opinion, even if the Best Interest Attorney ultimately advocates for a different position. A Best Interest Attorney will meet with your child; interview you and your co-parent; interview key witnesses; observe your child with each parent; interview and review the records of important providers in your child’s life (educational, medical, dental, psychiatric, psychological); and participate in any hearing, trial, or settlement negotiation on your child’s behalf.
Child Advocate Attorney
The Child Advocate Attorney is appointed when your child has what is called “considered judgment.” A Child Advocate Attorney is typically, though not always, reserved for older tenagers. When a child has considered judgement, a child is of the age and maturity level to have a firm position regarding their own legal and physical custody along with the ability to communicate and work with their attorney. The main difference between a Child Advocate Attorney and a Best Interest Attorney is that the attorney will advocate for what the child wants, not for what the attorney believes to be in the child’s best interests after a thorough investigation. The Child Advocate Attorney may perform the same duties as a Best Interest Attorney.
Representing children is a great privilege that we treat with the utmost care and respect. We ensure that the best interests of our child clients are not lost in litigation games or lengthy court processes.