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Tag: custody evaluators

Custody Evaluations Are a Terrible Idea

I was recently in court opposing a motion to appoint a custody evaluator in a child custody dispute case. I am generally opposed to child custody evaluations because of the way child custody evaluations are currently performed in Utah as of the date I make this video (December 2022). I generally oppose them (meaning I cannot think of a good reason for them in any case in which I have ever been involved yet). Why is that, you may ask? Many reason. One of the biggest reasons: child custody evaluations, the way they are performed currently in Utah, are an evidential and jurisprudential embarrassment. I don’t have time today to go into all the details in this video, but here are a few thoughts that came to mind as I prepared this video:

  • They are court-sponsored and court-endorsed hearsay.
  • Every child custody evaluator I know of refuses to record interviews with the parents, the children, and collateral sources on and for the record. We literally have no way of knowing whether the evaluator did any of the interviews the evaluator claims to have done.
  • Every custody evaluator I know of refuses to produce their psychological testing data in cases in which they have psychological testing conducted.
  • Child custody evaluators and their evaluations and the recommendations they make based upon their evaluations patently do not conform to the standards for qualifying as experts and for qualifying as expert testimony.
  • They cost not just too much, but way too much, given their extremely poor evidential value. The cheapest custody evaluator retainer I know of is $3,000, and the highest I’ve seen in recent memory is $8,000. Rarely does the evaluator’s retainer cover all the evaluator’s costs. Then there are the costs associated with the evaluator’s written report, which is usually around $2,000-$3,000 more. Then there is the cost of bringing the evaluator to court to testify at the rate of around $200 per hour.
  • The courts all but universally prohibit cross-examination of children regarding the custody evaluator’s claims. In my 26 years of practice, I have experienced one case in which the court interviewed the children on the record after the evaluator (in this case a “parental fitness evaluator”) conducted his work and produced his written report.
  • There are much faster, much less expensive, less laborious, much more reliable ways to gather credible evidence, even factual proof, pertaining to the child custody and parent-time awards. Such as? Deposing the children (“deposing” in this sense means questioning a child under oath, just not in the courthouse) or having the court interview the child in an appropriate setting that both protect the child from potential serious harm—being nervous about being questioned ain’t serious harm and never has been and never will be—while ensuring the deposition is evidentially sound.

o   Rather than costing thousands of dollars a deposition of the child for an hour or two would cost, at most, about half of what a custody evaluation costs. The cost of a judge interviewing the child on the record for an hour or two would cost about the same. That’s more than twice as much evidential value for less money.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Why is it OK for a parent to be given custody without their kids’ consent?

Why is it okay for a parent to be given custody without their kids consent or at least their input? This is a great question. I can’t speak for all lawyers, and the laws and rules governing what the courts must and can consider when making child custody awards differs slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and child custody law (Utah), there is a general policy that you can’t find written down anywhere but is nevertheless pervasive, and that is: courts will not talk to children in child custody cases if there is any way they can come up with a plausible excuse.

Do not misunderstand me. Courts can interview children on the subject of child custody and solicit the children’s experiences, observations, opinions, and preferences regarding the child custody award, although a child’s desires are “not the single controlling factor” governing the eventual child custody award (See Utah Code Section 30–3–10(5)(ii)). It’s just that most Utah courts, for reasons they’ve never credibly or logically explained to me, just don’t want to do it. Instead, they contract out the interviewing process to what are known as “custody evaluators” and/or “guardians ad litem”. You may ask, “So what’s the harm in that?”

In Utah, interviews between the children and custody evaluators and/or guardians ad litem are not on the record. Thus, we will never know what the children on what subjects the children were interviewed over or even if the children were interviewed at all. neither will we know what questions were asked, the manner in which they were asked, and the content and tone of the children’s responses, if any. Curiously, we don’t treat any other witness this way, but for some reason courts are more than happy to believe or say they believe that a custody evaluator and/or guardian ad litem would lie about a child interview or bungle a child interview.

when a judge interviews the child, not only do you have direct, unfiltered testimony in response to questions that the judge himself or herself deems most important to the child custody and parent time award analysis, that it takes less time, far less time than having a custody evaluator and/or guardian ad litem appointed to do the job. And it’s free of charge to have the judge interview the children, as opposed to costing thousands of dollars to pay for the services of a guardian ad litem, and even costing in excess of $10,000 to pay for the services of a custody evaluator. the value of what guardians ad litem and custody evaluators provide for the money just isn’t there when compared to no cost for a judge to interview the children directly and on the record. For some reason courts are more than happy to believe or say that they believe that it is just as good or better to have a child interview summarize and filtered through a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem then it would be to have the child speak directly to the judge, answering questions most pertinent and relevant in the judge’s opinion, and on the record. If you can explain how that makes any sense, please drop me a line.

Now clearly, some children would be too young to express a credible opinion or desire regarding child custody, are too young to know what they want, so young that they are easily manipulated, coachable, intimidated, or coerced. in those situations, it may make all the sense in the world to have a mental health professional observe the child to provide the court with some guidance as to

what custody and parent time arrangement serve the best interest of the child. but if a child is older than 10 years of age, there’s no harm in having the judge speak to that child to take the measure of the child, the child’s level of maturity and intelligence, and solicit information from that child’s experience to help guide the court in making the child custody and parent time awards. This is simply inarguable. And yet it remains virtually impossible to get a court to interview children directly and on the record. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the court to interview the children on the record, just don’t be surprised if you get inexplicable resistance to such a sensible idea, both from the court and from opposing counsel.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/Why-is-it-okay-for-a-parent-to-be-given-custody-without-their-kids-consent/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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Recent thoughts about family law

Recent thoughts about family law

I’ve been prompted recently to express my thoughts and opinions about the judiciary generally in the family law context. Here are a few thoughts I feel are worth sharing:

– Too often litigants and attorneys are afraid to present certain arguments and evidence and proposals for fear that merely raising fair-game topics, much less trying to advance them within the bounds of the law and procedure, will anger and/or offend the court to their detriment.

– Judges and commissioners deciding family law cases must be far more about the law and the facts dictating their decisions and much less about subjectively picking winners and losers.

– Judges and commissioners deciding family law cases must be far more about the law and the facts dictating their decisions and much less about indulging personal biases and subjectively picking winners and losers.

– Judges and commissioners rely on/pass the buck to GALs and custody evaluators far, far too much instead of interviewing children themselves and/or permitting children to testify. Just because this can be said of every district court* (as opposed to juvenile court) in Utah does not make universal failure/refusal right.

*If there is a judge or commissioner in Utah who will/does interview children in child custody cases to avoid the obscene expense, delays, and lack of record suffered by imposing a GAL or custody evaluator on the parties and children, I do not know of any such judge or commissioner. I get told frequently by many judges and commissioners who refuse to interview children something along the lines of, “I am not afraid/unwilling to interview children, I just [insert pretextual/lame excuse here],” and there are many judges and commissioners who tell me that it is their personal policy not to interview children under virtually any and all circumstances.

There are judges and commissioners everywhere, not just Utah, who act a law unto themselves. Always? No. But any time is too often, and there are times when I’ve witnessed this more times than can be written off to mere honest mistakes. Whether a judge or commissioner knowingly acts this way, ignorantly acts this way, or both, it is inexcusable.

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GALs/custody evaluators waste money/time compared to judge interview

GALs and custody evaluators waste too much money and time, and can never provide the same accuracy as a judge’s direct interview of the child.

This post is the fifteenth 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.

Even if guardians ad litem and custody evaluators always tell the truth (and there’s no way for us to know that, especially when they are not required to back their claims with independently verifiable evidence), how would that have any impact on whether children tell the truth to guardians ad litem and/or to custody evaluators? And is there any proof that children would lie more or less to judges than to guardians ad litem and/or custody evaluators? If so, I’m not aware of any such proof. It would be a cheap shot to call my critiques of the use of guardians ad litem and custody evaluators as being “skeptical” of their use when there is no basis for presuming that the use of guardians ad litem and/or custody evaluators is an obvious good or obviously better than having the judge speak directly to the children. Guardians ad litem and custody evaluators are way too expensive, waste too much time, and can never provide the same degree of accuracy as a judge’s interview directly with the child. That’s indisputable. Those who try to claim otherwise usually do so by relying on fallacious ad hominem and appeals to authority arguments, as well as outright lies.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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What’s the benefit of having no record of the child’s interview?

What’s the benefit of having no record of the child’s interview?

This post is the eleventh 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.

Even if private guardians ad litem work diligently and find a lot of useful information, there is no way to know that because they are not required to furnish any proof to verify the quality of their work and opinions. And so, when guardians ad litem say that they don’t tell us much, if anything, about what the child said, and refuse to provide of the evidence upon which they base their recommendations, but instead merely make a recommendation as to what is in the child’s best interest, the evidentiary basis for those recommendations, the factual basis in the record, is literally non-existent. What verifiable proof of anything pertaining to a child’s best interest when it comes to custody and parent time does a GAL bring to the table? Literally nothing.

Why should we take the unsubstantiated word of the GAL over the word of the child directly stated to the judge in an on the record interview with the judge? I do not see how a GAL can represent a child when there is no way to tell whether the GAL has done good/adequate/preponderance of evidence work or any work at all. The GAL’s work and the child’s interview(s) are not made on the record, so we have no idea what was asked of the child or what the child said in response. The GAL is not subject to discovery, so any ostensible evidence upon which the GAL claims to have based her analysis and recommendations will not exist as a matter of court record. The court literally takes on faith what the GAL recommends, if the court decides to believe anything the GAL says. I ask you: why I go through any of this rigmarole when the judge can interview the children directly, without any second or third hand intermediaries, far more quickly, accurately, particularly, and inexpensively than a GAL or custody evaluator?

I have never witnessed a private guardian ad litem meet or speak with the children for multiple times or for significant periods of time (nor am I aware of the need for this). Even if they did so, how would we ever know? None of their conversation(s) is/are made part of the court’s record. And even if a guardian ad litem and/or custody evaluator were to spend hours speaking with the child, attending the child’s activities, becoming intimately acquainted with the child circumstances, feelings and needs, neither the parents nor the court will ever know this because A) neither the guardian ad litem nor the custody evaluator is required to record interviews with the children, will never really know what they were asked or what they said in response and B) the judge will never speak with the child to verify whether what the guardian ad litem and/or custody evaluator reports is true. I do not know why anybody believes this is an acceptable way to engage in fact-finding, especially in court proceedings. No one has yet convincingly explained why to me, and I’ve asked around a lot.

I’ve heard guardians ad litem claim to have spoken to collateral sources, but how would we know if they ever did or what they asked or what they were told? No record is made of any of their alleged actions, no discovery can be conducted into who these alleged collateral contacts were or what they actually said to the guardian ad litem. In most cases, the guardian ad litem doesn’t even identify specially who he or she spoke with, and even if these collateral sources were specifically identified, we have no record of the conversation between the GAL and the collateral sources. And by the time you learn who the collateral sources are, the guardian ad litem is already made his or her report to the court, so you can’t cross-examine any of the alleged collateral sources the Guardian ad litem claims to have interviewed.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

 

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Do GALs or custody evaluators do a better job of interviewing children than judges do?

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?

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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