In custody disputes, parents are sometimes so personally involved in the proceedings that they are unable to objectively consider their child’s best interests. In these circumstances the parents may choose, or the court may order, that the child be independently represented by another lawyer. The “child’s lawyer” is called an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”). This procedure has been used in Alberta for over thirty-five years.
Who Is the Amicus Curiae and What Does He or She Do?
The amicus is a lawyer in private practice hired especially for the purpose of providing independent legal representation for a child and marshalling expert evidence to assist the Court in arriving at its ultimate decision. Once the amicus is selected, he or she will hire psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or other experts to investigate and prepare a report on the child’s situation. These reports take time to prepare, and often cause a delay of at least six to eight months in the legal proceedings.
Once the amicus has reviewed the report, based upon the best interests of the child, he or she will recommend which parent should have custody and how access should be arranged. Recommendations of the amicus are not binding on the court (that is, the court need not follow them), but in general, the court relies heavily on the objective observations and recommendations of the amicus. Usually agreements are reached based on these reports. However, if the case ends up going to trial then experts can be called as witnesses to make recommendations about custody, guardianship, and access.