The Difference Between an Amicus Attorney and an Attorney Ad Litem

In family law cases, involving child custody and welfare, the court may appoint legal representatives to assist in ensuring the best interests of the child. These appointed representatives are amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem. While they both advocate for the best interest of the child, there is a difference in their roles and responsibilities.

Amicus Attorney:

An amicus attorney, is appointed to provide legal assistance and guidance to the court in matters concerning the child’s best interests. What this means is that they are more of an agent of the court rather than the child’s attorney. They operate similarly to a child custody evaluator, except they will get to present a case in trial. In general they will perform the following:

1. Investigation and Advocacy: An amicus attorney thoroughly investigates the circumstances surrounding the case, including the child’s living situation, relationships with parents, and any other relevant factors. They will then advocate for the child’s best interest based on this investigation regardless of whether it adheres to the child’s wants.

2. Recommendations to the Court: After gathering information and conducting interviews with involved parties, the amicus attorney presents recommendations to the court regarding custody, visitation, and other relevant issues. These recommendations are aimed at promoting the child’s well-being and ensuring a safe and nurturing environment.

3. Legal Representation: Although the amicus attorney does not directly represent the child as a client, they act as a legal advocate on behalf of the child’s best interests. Their primary duty is to provide impartial and objective guidance to the court based on their assessment of the case.

Attorney Ad Litem:

An attorney ad litem, on the other hand, is appointed specifically to represent the child’s interests in court proceedings. Here’s what distinguishes the role of an attorney ad litem:

1. Direct Representation: Unlike an amicus attorney, an attorney ad litem directly represents the child as their client. Just like the parents have they lawyers, the ad litem is the child’s lawyer. This means that while they advocate for the child’s best interest, they also advocate for the child’s wants and desires throughout the process.

2. Legal Counsel: They also provides legal counsel to the child, explaining the court proceedings to them in age-appropriate terms. Like the amicus, they may also investigate the case, interview witnesses, and gather evidence to support the child’s position.

3. Court Advocacy: Similar to the amicus, an ad litem presents arguments and evidence on behalf of the child. But again, the key difference is that they are not a neutral party. They are expressly advocating for the wants and needs of the child. They don’t function as an extension of the court or like a child custody evaluator. The best way to think of it is as if your child went out and hired an attorney on their own volition.

In summary, while both amicus attorneys and attorneys ad litem play crucial roles in advocating for children’s best interests, they differ in their scope of representation and responsibilities. Amicus attorneys provide guidance and recommendations to the court, while attorneys ad litem directly represent the child and advocate for their wishes and welfare. Understanding these distinctions can help ensure that children’s rights and interests are effectively protected in family law proceedings