In certain cases, a judge may appoint an amicus attorney to represent the best interests of the child. In suits involving the necessity of an amicus, judges in the Harris County Family Law Courts have requested Mary E. Ramos to serve as the court-appointed amicus attorney. Please read on to find out more about the role of an amicus attorney.
*What is an Amicus Attorney? *
When did the role of the amicus attorney begin?
In suits brought by a private individual, where the court appoints an amicus attorney, the court cannot appoint an attorney ad litem.
An amicus attorney must be an attorney trained in child advocacy or an attorney determined by the court to have experience equivalent to that training. Attorney's employed by the Title IV-D agency (such as the attorney general's office) cannot be appointed or act as an amicus attorney.
*How do you know if you need an amicus attorney? *
In private suits that affect the parent-child relationship, an amicus may be appointed, usually at the discretion of the court. If the court feels that it needs assistance in protecting the child ’s best interests, then in those instances, will an amicus attorney be appointed.
Once an amicus attorney is appointed by the court, an attorney ad litem cannot be appointed. On the other hand, if an attorney ad litem is appointed in a private suit that affects the parent-child relationship, an amicus attorney cannot be appointed. Please note that if the suit is filed by a governmental entity, an amicus attorney will not be needed nor appointed, since the court may not appoint a person to serve as an amicus attorney in a suit filed by a governmental entity.
*If an amicus attorney is needed, who pays? *
Under the current provisions of the Family Code, chapter 107, it clearly states that a county may not pay for the services of an amicus attorney in a private suit affecting the parent-child relationship filed on or after September 1, 2003, regardless of the parties’ indigence. Therefore, in private suits affecting the parent-child relationship, the fees of the amicus attorney are normally shared 50/50 between the parties, unless otherwise agreed.
*Duties of an amicus attorney *
The Family Code outlines the powers and duties of an Amicus Attorney. These duties include:
*What powers does an amicus attorney possess? *
As an amicus attorney, one would be able to:
*Advocating the best interests of the child *
In determining the best interests of the child, it is important to know that the amicus attorney is not bound by the child’s expressed objectives of representation. Rather, the amicus attorney shall, in a developmentally appropriate manner:
*Putting together an amicus binder *
As a helpful tool in assisting the Amicus in one’s case, I have found it beneficial to have the parties put together an amicus binder. If you happen to be the amicus attorney on the case, receiving one of these allows you to really get to know the child(ren). If you are an attorney representing one of the parties, providing the amicus attorney with an amicus binder allows the amicus to see the child(ren) from your client’s perspective. Home visits and interviews may run smoother if the amicus knows a little about the child(ren) when in your client’s care.
An amicus binder can include just about anything that you believe will assist the amicus in having a better feel of the child(ren). Attached in the appendix are some forms that I like to use to assist my clients in putting together an amicus binder.
For a quick snapshot of some of the things I like to include, listed below is an outline of how my binders are set up:
*Doing your utmost as an amicus attorney *
In addition to the duties outlined above, the depth of which the amicus attorney goes into in order to assist the court in determining the best interests of the child will vary from attorney to attorney. As mentioned above, being the eyes and ears for the court, it is the amicus attorney whose voice is heard regarding what is in the best interest of the child. With that being said, in addition to my scheduled home visits, I also request the cooperation of the parents with respect to providing me a complaint list regarding the other parent, a wish list from each parent, their completed custody questionnaires, and a chronology of events detailing both parent’s parenting skills and relationship with the child in support of that parent’s request (such as the request to be the primary custodial parent).
Here is a snapshot of some of the extra things I like to do when appointed as the amicus:
Provide each party with language dealing with child care options that address:
Request the parties’ signature regarding:
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