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Child Custody & Adoption Pro Bono Project

The ABA Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project ended in August, 2008. The final report of the Project, Enhancing the Representation of Children in Private Custody Cases: Resources and Lessons Learned from the ABA Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project, as well as the resources available below continue to provide guidance to all individuals and programs working to give a voice to children in private custody cases.


The Project's mission was to enhance and expand the delivery of legal services to children involved in divorce, adoption, guardianship, unmarried parent, and civil protective order matters. With emphasis on identifying and developing "best practices," training, and technical assistance and to design and implement programs and policies fostering children's well-being and providing children meaningful participation to courts and pro bono programs, the Project served as a critical national resource in the important area of child custody.


The ABA's Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project was a joint project of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the Family Law Section, and was administered by the ABA Center for Pro Bono. This project was made possible through the generous gift of Melita and William Grunow, in memory of their niece, Ann Liechty, a dedicated child law advocate and a 1998 recipient of the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award.


  1. A demonstrable increase in the number of pro bono child custody projects and opportunities, and a corresponding increase in the number of pro bono attorneys and children served.
  2. Higher quality representation to children in child custody matters.
  3. Implementation of innovative delivery strategies designed to expand legal services access for children involved in child custody matters.
  4. Children and parents who are better educated and informed about custody proceedings, results, and impacts.
  5. Heightened judicial sensitivity and knowledge in making decisions regarding children's custody.
  6. Improved relationships between pro bono child custody attorneys and non-lawyer children's advocates, including doctors, psychologists, social workers, and teachers.
  7. Greater support and participation in legislation impacting child custody matters.
  8. Improved coordination and communication among groups working at a national level on the complex issues involved in child custody.

Project Activities

Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Children in Custody Cases

The Project worked with the ABA Family Law Section on Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Children in Custody Cases. The Standards were adopted by the Family Law Section, and approved by the ABA House of Delegates in August 2003. The Standards present best practices for procedural, practical, and ethical issues faced by lawyers representing children in private custody cases. Based in part on these standards, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws prepared the Uniform Representation of Children in Abuse and Neglect and Custody Proceedings Act

A Judge's Guide: Making Child-Centered Decisions in Custody Cases, Second Edition

The Project was instrumental in producing the second edition of A Judge’s Guide: Making Child Centered Decisions in Custody Cases, which will assist all family court judges in ensuring the well-being of the children in their courtrooms by providing invaluable information on:

  • Managing the contested child custody case.
  • Representation for the child in complex custody cases.
  • Understanding child and youth development to minimize the negative impact of divorce and separation on children and their families.
  • Evaluating the parent-child relationship, parenting impairments, and parenting skills.
  • Determining the types of mental health, home study, and other evaluations needed when making child custody decisions.
  • Selecting appropriate professionals to conduct assessments.
  • Considering complex issues such as supervised visitation, relocation, alleged domestic violence or sexual abuse, third party claims, and joint custody.

The entire second edition is available as a free download through this link.


The Project developed a six-hour video training series, accompanied by a 700-plus page manual. This is a multi-disciplinary training program. This training applies to attorneys serving as either the Child's Attorney or the Best Interest Attorney in divorce, adoption, guardianship, unmarried parents' cases and civil orders of protection. The training and materials may be viewed through the links below. The topics and speakers in the series are:

  • Case Development with Stacey Platt, JD, Loyola Law School Professor;
  • Cultural Competence with Suzette Speight, PhD, Loyola University Professor of Education;
  • Ethical Issues with Gregg Herman, JD, Milwaukee, Wisconsin;
  • Child Development with Kathryn Shands, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychologist, Atlanta, Georgia;
  • Hearing the Voice of the Child with Risa Garon, LCSW, Director, The Children of Separation and Divorce Center and Keith Schiszik, JD, Maryland;
  • Mental Health Experts, Tests & Services with Robin Deutsch, PhD, Co-Director, Children and the Law Program, Boston, Massachusetts;
  • Domestic Violence with Leigh Goodmark, JD; Child Abuse with Ann Haralambie, JD, Tucson, Arizona; and
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution with Kelly Browe Olson, JD, LLM, University of Arkansas, Alternative Dispute Resolution Clinic Director.

ABA Child Custody Pro Bono Project Training April 2007

  1. Introduction - Case Development - Cultural Competence (Windows Media Player File, 1:36:07, 185 Mb)

  2. Ethical Issues - Child Development (Windows Media Player File, 1:13:22, 141 Mb)

  3. Hearing the Voice of the Child - Mental Health Experts - Domestic Violence (Windows Media Player File, 1:34:52, 188 Mb)

  4. Child Abuse - Alternative Dispute Resolution - CLE Information (Windows Media Player File, 1:09:25, 144 Mb)

  5. Training Materials (PDF File, 51 Mb)


The Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project awarded $50,000 to programs and projects working to bring people together to develop pro bono child representation programs in private custody cases. 2008 Grants Announcement.

The Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project (the "Project") awarded $50,000 to programs and projects working to develop partnerships between pro bono attorneys and law students in the representation of children in private custody cases. 2007 Grant Recipients

The Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project (the "Project") awarded $50,000 to "Implement Standards and Trainings for Children's Attorneys." The Project's grants are being made in conjunction with its release of a six-hour video training series, accompanied by a 700-plus page manual. This is a multi-disciplinary training program which has been submitted for CLE credit approval. Training Series Report 2006 Mini-Grants.

The Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project awarded $50,000 to enhance the connection between legal advocacy for children in custody cases and critical mental health and social services. Five programs from around the country received funding. The Project produced a Guide which details the work of five programs who received funding from the ABA Child Custody Project in 2005, as well as information about other mental health and social service projects within child representation programs. View or download the Guide along with listed exhibits.

The Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project awarded grants to seven organizations actively engaged in delivering pro bono legal services to children in custody cases. The 2003 Mini-Grants, totaling $43,500, are funding efforts that use volunteer lawyers to represent indigent or needy children. See 2003 grant recipients for a list and description of recipients.

The Project awarded $40,000 to six programs. A list and description of 2002 mini-grant recipients can be found in the May 2002 Press Release.  One of the 2002 grant recipients produced an online GAL training manual, which is available at

Ann Liechty Child Custody Awards

The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the Child Custody Pro Bono Project established an annual award to honor an individual attorney or law firm that has represented or enhanced the representation of children in private custody cases.

Recipients of the Ann Liechty Child Custody Award

Ann Liechty
Photo Courtesy Tony Smith Photography, Billings

Child Custody Resources in the Center for Pro Bono Knowledge Center

The Project has collected materials from many different sources, and has loaded them to the Center for Pro Bono Knowledge Center. These materials are intended for use by programs, attorneys, and courts interested in child custody representation. Because our intended audience is programs, attorneys, and courts, and because that is who the materials are designed for, we do not send library documents to members of the general public except in exceptional circumstances. Documents in the library include training manuals, substantive articles, informational brochures, and other education materials. You can search the library Clearinghouse either by subject category or key words. Your search will generate a list of documents, the majority of which will be available for immediate viewing or printing through the "Full Text" link.

Child Custody Programs Directory and Report

The Project has compiled information on programs around the country that directly represent children in private custody cases. The Project maintained a database of this information and has produced a Directory of these programs and a Report summarizing this information.  Further information may also be found in the  Section of Litigation's ABA Directory of Children's Law Programs

Fifty-one Jurisdiction Research Projects

The Project researched child custody representation laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Researched issues include when attorneys are appointed, the role the attorney plays in the case, qualifications for the attorneys, and how such representation is funded. Summaries of the results are available for divorce cases and adoptions and guardianships for minors.

In addition, the project researched the laws of all jurisdictions regarding cases in which domestic violence issues are raised, where custody or safety of children is an issue. Summaries are available for General Domestic Violence Statutory Provisions, Domestic Violence Raised in Custody Cases, Civil Order of Protection Cases, and Domestic Violence Definitions in Statutes Other than Custody.

Links To Related ABA Information

Other Child Custody Resources


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