The Council for Court Excellence wants to improve judges’ ability to make sound decisions in custody disputes. Thus, a CCE project committee developed practice standards to guide court-appointed lawyers who represent the children involved in such disputes, and CCE presented those proposed standards to the DC Family Court in July 2011. The Court continues to review the proposal with the aim of publishing its own practice standards.
The DC Access to Justice Commission has reported that 77 percent of the people who seek custody of their children or a divorce in the DC Superior Court Family Court have no attorneys and litigate the cases on their own. When parents ask judges to make custody decisions, the judges must decide based on the best interests of the child. But self-represented parties may find it hard to present reliable evidence to the court. That can impair the judge’s ability to make good decisions and place children at risk. So sometimes Family Court judges appoint volunteer attorneys to represent the children’s interests.
Until the Court adopts practice standards for court-appointed custody attorneys, in compliance with the Family Court Act of 2001, there will continue to be no uniform expectations for what the attorneys’ qualifications or obligations should be.