About Attorney Ad Litem Program in Domestic Relations and Probate matters
Act 708 of 1999, with pertinent provisions codified at Ark. Code Ann. § 9-13-101(e) & § 9-13-106, authorized the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to establish an attorney ad litem program in domestic relations and probate cases where custody is an issue. In furtherance of the Act, the General Assembly appropriated $50,000.00 in FY 99-00 and $100,000.00 in FY 00-01 with which to reimburse attorneys. The amount of funding has increased over the years, and the current appropriation for the program is $396,750.00.
Pursuant to the Act, the AOC prepared a funding formula for apportionment of the funds to ensure that each judicial circuit had access to the funds. The funds are allocated pro rata to judicial circuits based upon the number of divorce, custody, paternity, adoption, and guardianship filings for the previous calendar year. The Administrative Judge for a circuit decides how the funds allocated to his or her circuit will be distributed to the judges in the circuit or whether the funds will be used by all the judges in the circuit first-come, first-served. The circuit judge then notifies the Administrative Office of the Courts how the funds will be used.
When a circuit judge determines that an appointment of an attorney ad litem would facilitate a domestic relations or probate case in which custody is an issue and would further protect the rights of the child, the judge may appoint a private attorney to represent the child. To be considered for appointment, an attorney must meet the prescribed standards of practice and qualifications adopted by the Arkansas Supreme Court and set out in Administrative Order Number 15. In extraordinary cases, the trial court may appoint an attorney ad litem who does not meet the required standards and qualifications. The attorney may not be appointed in subsequent cases, however, until he or she has made efforts to meet the standards and qualifications.
If a circuit judge appoints an attorney ad litem and determines that the parties can afford to pay the attorney ad litem fee without state assistance, the judge can approve any fee the judge finds reasonable. However, if the judge authorizes part or all of the attorney ad litem fee to be paid by the state, the attorney ad litem cannot bill at an hourly rate in excess of $90.00 per hour for either the portion to be paid by the state or the portion to be paid by the litigants. In addition, the judge may award out-of-pocket expenses, but the total award to be paid from the appropriation in any single case shall not exceed $1,250.00. If a case is completed and then reopens, the case is eligible for additional payment, up to $1,250.00 for each reopening.