In an attempt to address issues related to role confusion and promote uniformity of practice, the
ABA promulgated the Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Children in Custody
Cases (hereinafter “ABA Standards”). 22 Several other entities promulgated Standards as well;
this article will focus on the ABA Standards and note certain places where other Standards
deviate from the ABA Standards in significant ways. 23
The ABA Standards do not refer to guardians ad litem, noting that the term and the role have
become “too muddled through different usages in different states, with varying connotations.” 24
The ABA Standards instead refer to two distinct attorney roles within the custody context: the
“Child’s Attorney” and the “Best Interests Attorney.” 25 The Child’s Attorney is “a lawyer who
provides independent legal counsel for a child and who owes the same duties of undivided
loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation that are due an adult client.” 26 The Best
Interests Attorney is “a lawyer who provides independent legal services for the purpose of
protecting a child’s best interests, without being bound by the child’s objectives or directives.” 27
Both the Child’s Attorney and the Best Interests Attorney are obligated to accept appointment
22 ABA Standard, supra note 3.
23 See, e.g., American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Standards for Attorneys for Children in Custody or
Visitation Proceedings With Commentary, 22 J. AM. ACAD. MATRIM. L. 227 (2009); National Conference of
Commissioners on Uniform State Laws Uniform Representation of Children in Abuse, Neglect and Custody
Proceedings Act, 42 FAM. L. Q. (Spring 2008) (withdrawn from consideration by the ABA House of Delegates).
24 ABA Standard, supra note 3, at § II.B cmt. (“[The role of GAL] is a venerable legal concept that has often been
stretched beyond recognition to serve fundamentally new functions, such as parenting coordinator, referee,
facilitator, arbitrator, evaluator, mediator and advocate. Asking one Guardian Ad Litem to perform several roles at
once, to be all things to all people, is a messy, ineffective, expedient. A court seeking expert or lay opinion
testimony, written reports, or other non-traditional services should appoint an individual for that purpose, and make
clear that that person is not serving as a lawyer, and is not a party. This person can be either a non-lawyer, or a
lawyer who chooses to serve in a non-lawyer capacity.”).
25 See id. at § II.B ( 1) and ( 2) (“These Standards do not use the term ‘Guardian Ad Litem.’ The role of ‘guardian ad
litem’ has become too muddled through different usages in different states, with varying connotations.”).
26 See id. at § II.B ( 1) (“Child’s Attorney”: A lawyer who provides independent legal counsel for a child and who
owes the same duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation as are due an adult client).
27 See id. at § II.B ( 1) §II.B ( 2) (“Best Interests Attorney”: A lawyer who provides independent legal services for the
purpose of protecting a child’s best interests, without being bound by the child’s directives or objectives).