If you have a contested custody matter which cannot be solved by initial mediation sessions, the court will generally appoint either an attorney or a guardian ad litem (latin “for the case”) to represent your children. The attorney for your children represents their legal interests just as your attorney represents yours, voicing their wishes and advocating for that position. The guardian ad item’s job is to give neutral information to the court about what is in the child’s best interests, irrespective of the child’s wishes. Typically, older children will get an attorney appointed, and younger children will get a guardian, especially if they are too young to talk. But this varies across states. It will be either the attorney’s or the guardian’s responsibility to determine what the children want to do, or should do according to that adult’s judgment. The attorney or guardian can assist you in knowing how your child feels as the case progresses, and your child’s vulnerabilities which require attention. Click here for more information.
Evaluations of the Child and Family
When parents are disputing about child issues, then in addition to the court appointed advocates, the court typically orders an evaluation of the family to assist the judge in making decisions for the parents. The purpose of the evaluation is to provide the court with a full picture about the individual family members and their relationships to each other. This information will assist the judge in making decisions about parenting arrangements, depending upon the factors to which that judge decides to give most weight.
Many courts have a Family Relations Office that will conduct this study for little or no cost. You may also wish to ask for an independent custody evaluation, which is typically performed by a social worker, psychologist, or other mental health professional that the court deems competent to evaluate your case for custody and visitation issues. Either you or the court could request and/or appoint an independent evaluator. Court-sponsored evaluations conducted by Family Relations officers typically include the following elements: the evaluator will speak with the parties together, separately, with the children alone, with the children and each party, with the teachers, day care providers, doctors, extended family and anyone else who has contact with the family and who would be able to comment on the parties’ parenting abilities. The Family Relations office study is a nuts and bolts analysis of the family situation, and the parental roles within that family situation over the last several years. Court sponsored evaluations have the benefit of being less expensive, and utilizing court-related personnel who have a great deal of experience with the judges and attorneys of the judicial district they work in. They are often expert investigators, within the standards of their practice. Click here to visit a website dedicated to guardians ad litem.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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