There is nothing a GAL could learn how to do that a judge cannot also learn how to do equally well.
This post is the ninth in series of 15 posts on the subject of custody evaluations and the appointment of guardians ad litem (“GALs” for short) in Utah child custody cases when the judge could simply interview the children instead. You do not have to read all 16 posts to benefit from this series. Read as many or as few as you wish.
The purpose of this series is to make the case for the proposition that an interview by the judge is a faster, more accurate, more particular, more reliable, and less expensive form of evidence than what a GAL and/or custody evaluator provides.
There is nothing a guardian ad litem could learn how to do and then do that a judge cannot also learn how to do equally well and do equally well.
Some people try to make a (false) distinction between the effect of a judge questioning a child and the effect of a guardian ad litem questioning a child.
Up until a certain age, we all know that children have no idea what the difference between a judge and a lawyer is; therefore, if they’re not aware of any difference between the judge questioning them and a GAL questioning them, the effects of the questioning cannot be any more traumatic when the judge conducts the interview then when a guardian ad litem conducts the interview.
But let’s assume that we’re dealing with the interview of a child who is 14 or 15 years old or older. At that age, one might expect a child to know the difference between a judge and a lawyer. The child might even realize that the judge is the one who ultimately makes the child custody and parent-time decisions. So what?
If a guardian ad litem sat down with a child and told the 14+ years old child, “Hi, I’m Eric, and I’ve been asked to help you, your parents, and the court find out what you want and need and what’s best for you and your family when it comes to where you and your siblings live after your parents get divorced. I’d like to talk about that with you now for the next hour or so,” how would the effect on the child be any different if a judge sat down with that same child and said essentially the same thing? The answer is it clearly would not be any different merely because the one asking the questions is a judge instead of a GAL.
There is nothing about judges talking to children that is inherently harmful, just as there is nothing about guardians ad litem talking to children that inherently has a beneficial or benign effect on the child.
Claims that judges questioning children does children harm require us to presume that would be because of their status as judges, because all judges are insensitive and incompetent questioners, or both. Obviously, neither premise is true. For it were shown to be true that a judge is insensitive and/or incompetent, then the problem wouldn’t be whether the judge interviews the children, but whether the judge can be trusted to act in the best interest of the children in the first place.
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