This post is the tenth 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.
But do GALs or custody evaluators do a better job of interviewing children than judges do?
When the “judges interviewing children harms children” argument is finally abandoned by those who acknowledge it’s a silly and patently invalid argument, the next argument to which some cleaning in their efforts to prevent judges from talking to children directly is this one: GAL’s and/or custody evaluators develop a much deeper understanding of the child circumstances, needs, and desires than would a judge interviewing a child. But a guardian ad litem does not spend that much time learning about a child, his parents, or his environment, and does not establish an especially trusting or otherwise meaningful relationship with the child either. I’ve talked with GALs and custody evaluators and with people who had them appointed to speak to them as children; the guardian and/or custody evaluator may have spoken to them for an hour or so. No more than the amount of time a judge could and should spend speaking to a child as well. To assert that guardians ad litem and/or custody evaluators do a better job of interviewing children than a judge can because GALs inherently care more or put more effort or time into it is demonstrably false.
First, if there are any private guardians ad litem out there who spend more than an hour or so talking to their child clients before going before the court and making recommendations based upon the interview with the child, I don’t know who they are. I have never had a guardian ad litem do that in the cases I’ve handled. And if any of you claim that you generally spend or need to spend more than an hour or so interviewing the child, please provide some independently verifiable proof.
I have never witnessed a private guardian ad litem meet or speak with the children multiple times. Even if they did, how would we ever know? None of their conversation(s) is/are made part of the court’s record.
How could a GAL speak with the parents (unless the parents are proceeding pro se) without violating the rule against communicating with a represented party? On the extraordinarily rare occasion that the guardian ad litem has sought permission to speak with my client, the conversation has been brief and not in depth. And in a way that doesn’t come as a surprise. The guardian ad litem doesn’t speak for the parents. The parents can do that for themselves. Come to think of it, except where child is too young to communicate effectively, children don’t need a guardian ad litem or a custody evaluator to speak for them either. They have their own voice and should be permitted to voice their experiences, observations, feelings, concerns, opinions, needs, and desires by themselves, in their own words, unfiltered and unadulterated. But what do I know?
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