Houston Amicus Attorney
Mary E. Ramos // Attorney At Law //
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?
- According to §107.001 of the Texas Family Code, an amicus attorney is an attorney appointed by
the court in a suit, other than a suit filed by a governmental entity, whose role is to provide legal
services necessary to assist the court in protecting a child's best interests rather than to provide
legal services to the child.
- 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. While an amicus attorney should let the court know the
desires of the child, the amicus attorney is not required to advocate for those desires if the amicus
attorney believes the desires would not be in the best interests of the child. It is important to know
that the amicus attorney does not have an attorney-client relationship with the child, as the amicus
attorney provides legal services to the court, not the child.
When did the role of the amicus attorney begin?
- On September 1, 2003, the powers and duties of attorneys and non-attorneys appointed in Children's
Protective Services (CPS) cases and in private custody disputes were clarified. As it stands,
lawyers will no longer be appointed with the title of Guardian Ad Litem, but rather will be either an
Attorney Ad Litem or an Amicus Attorney.
- In short, the court will decide whether the function of an appointed lawyer in custody cases is
to assist the court to reach a best interest decision, or to represent the child in an attorney-client
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 does an amicus attorney differ from an attorney ad-litem and a guardian ad litem?
In order to see the differences between the three, let’s look at their definitions:
As mentioned above, an amicus attorney may be appointed by the courts in suits brought on by
private individuals to assist the court in protecting the child’s best interests—not to
provide legal services to the child.
Attorney ad litem
An attorney ad litem is an attorney who provides legal services to a person, including a child, and
who owes to the person the duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation.
Guardian ad litem
A guardian ad litem is a person appointed to represent the best interest of a child. The term
- a volunteer advocate;
- a professional, other than an attorney, who holds a relevant professional license and whose
training relates to the determination of a child’s best interests;
- an adult having the competence, training, and expertise determined by the court to be sufficient
to represent the best interest of the child;
- or an attorney ad litem appointed to serve in the dual role.
As you can see, the difference between them is that the amicus attorney is an attorney
appointed by the court in suits brought on by private individuals whose single role is to
provide the court with assistance in protecting the child’s best interests. This
does away with having an attorney ad litem serve dual roles.
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
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:
- Interviewing the child in a developmentally appropriate manner, if the child is four years of age or older;
- Interviewing each person who has significant knowledge of the child’s history and
condition, including any foster parent of the child;
- Interviewing the parties to the suit;
- Seek to elicit in a developmentally appropriate manner the child’s expressed objectives of
- Consider the impact on the child in formulating the attorney’s presentation of the child
’s expressed objectives of representation to the court;
- Investigate the facts of the case to the extent the attorney considers appropriate;
- Obtain and review copies of relevant records relating to the child such as social records, law
enforcement records, school records, medical, mental health or drug or alcohol treatment records;
- Participate in the conduct of the litigation to the same extent as an attorney for a party
- Take any action consistent with the child’s interests that the attorney considers necessary
to expedite the proceedings;
- Encourage settlement and the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution; and
- Review and sign, or decline to sign, a proposed or agreed order affecting the child.
What powers does an amicus attorney possess?
As an amicus attorney, one would be able to:
- Request clarification from the court if the role of the attorney is ambiguous;
- Request a hearing or trial on the merits;
- Consent or refuse to consent to an interview of the child by another attorney;
- Receive a copy of each pleading or other paper filed with the court;
- Receive notice of each hearing in the suit;
- Participate in any case staffing concerning the child conducted by an authorized agency; and
- Attend all legal proceedings in the suit.
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:
- With the consent of the child, ensure that the child’s expressed objectives of
representation are made known to the court;
- Explain the role of the amicus attorney to the child;
- Inform the child that the amicus attorney may use information that the child provides in
providing assistance to the court; and
- Become familiar with the American Bar Association’s standards of practice for attorneys who
represent children in custody cases.
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:
- Detailed questionnaire regarding the parents and the child
- Child’s school records (report cards, awards)
- Parent’s journal
- Parent’s concerns
- Parent’s calendar
- The story of the marriage
- The story of the child (likes/dislikes, favorite food, toys, hobbies, etc.)
- Photographs of the child and family
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:
- Complete a background check for both parties, including any and all persons staying at their
- TDL, criminal history check, and sexual pedophile check for each party’s zip code;
- HCAD search for each of the residences to see if there are any problems with asbestos, or
lead-based paint (according to the year built);
- Provide each party with a blank calendar so that each party can record all important events;
- Request completion of my questionnaire which includes witness lists, names of the children’
s schools, medical records, etc.
- Provide each party with language dealing with child care options that address:
- phone access;
- e-mail access;
- summer camp;
- right of 1st refusal;
- proposed holidays;
- payment of extra-curricular activities;
- moral injunctions; and
- minimizing exposure to harmful parental conflict
- Request the parties’ signature regarding:
- Medical release
- School release
- Attorney release to communicate with clients
An amicus attorney is simply a phone call away
Whether you are interested in understanding more about the amicus attorney’s role or are
currently seeking the services of an amicus attorney, the Ramos Law Firm can assist you
with all your amicus needs.
For more information, please call 713-225-6200.