By Thomas Mulinazzi
MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office
In any family law case where custody is an issue, the Court is charged with taking the evidence presented by both parties and making a custody decision that it believes is in the best interests of any child(ren). However, in instances where the parties cannot wait until their hearing date and the facts of the case suggest the need for advocate on behalf of the child(ren), the Court may, on motion of a party, appoint a Best Interest Attorney to represent the interests of the parties’ child(ren).
What is a Best Interest Attorney (BIA) and What do they do?
The BIA is court-appointed and provides independent legal services for the purposes of protecting a child’s best interests. They are attorneys who represent the child(ren) in a custody dispute and articulate the child(ren)’s interest to the Court. Attorneys at MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office (www.mulinazzi.com) have helped many families in Fulton and Clarksville in these situations by representing children and removing them from the chaos of divorce and separation.
In representing the child(ren), the BIA may do the following:
- Visit the child in each home;
- Interview the parents and any witnesses;
- Participate in settlement negotiations;
- Review educational, medical, dental, psychological or other records;
- Interview school personnel, childcare providers or other health care professionals; and
- give recommendations and suggestions throughout the case to help reduce the conflict and effect settlement; and
- if settlement cannot happen, the BIA will present evidence to the Court about what the BIA thinks is best for the child(ren).
How much does a Best Interest Attorney cost?
It depends. But usually, the Court will require that the parties split the costs associated with the appointment of a BIA. Some Counties have a fund for lower income litigants and the Court will require one or both litigants to contribute a significantly reduced amount to the costs of the BIA. Similarly, when one parent makes much than the other a Court may pro rate the cost to approximate the difference in parental incomes. To find out about what your County Court does you can call and ask the Court’s Family Services Coordinator.
Should you request a Best Interest Attorney?
As mentioned earlier, the Court may, on the motion of a party, appoint a BIA. So, should you request that the Court appoint a BIA in your custody case? It depends. If your child is under the age of five, probably not. If your child is a pre-teen or teenage, it is worth considering requesting a BIA as they may have a more developed understanding of their custodial preferences. A BIA could talk to them and better understand the parental conflict through their eyes and bring that perspective back to the parents or the attorneys to help settle the case by working on solutions. Additionally, you should consider any cost implications when choosing to request a BIA. The Howard County custody attorneys at MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office routinely serve as BIAs in some of the most difficult cases and also some of the not-so tough matters. We bring this perspective and our reputation to our representation of parent as well. And this is why we have so much success at settling cases and if that isn’t possible we have great success at getting family-centered results.