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Tag: interview

I’ve never seen a GAL or custody evaluator add value equal to the fees they charge

I’ve never seen a GAL or custody evaluator add value equal to the fees they charge

This post is the fourteenth 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.

I’ve never seen a guardian ad litem or custody evaluator add value to the child custody analysis that is equal to what the GAL and/or custody evaluator charged in fees, and here is why:

First and most glaring of all, there is no way to know if the guardian ad litem has done anything (let alone done anything well or poorly) because the guardian ad litem does not have to make a record and is not subject to discovery. The guardian ad litem could literally do nothing and lie through his or her teeth to the court and there is be no way discover and expose it except by dumb luck. Custody evaluators, as opposed to guardians ad litem, can be subject to some discovery, but rarely is a custody evaluator willing to part with his or her file contents in response to a discovery request. It is often very difficult to get a custody evaluator to comply with the discovery request, if a discovery request is made.

Back to the problems of guardians ad litem specifically. Because the guardian ad litem is not required to furnish the court with any proof in support of any alleged facts that underlie the GAL’s assertions and recommendations, the guardian ad litem’s assertions, analysis, and recommendations literally have the same evidentiary value as any other person’s bald claims.

If there are devoted guardians ad litem out there becoming intimately and accurately acquainted with their child clients’ circumstances and feelings AND providing verifiably accurate and credible factual information to the court, as well as sound analysis based upon and citing to such evidence, I have yet to witness that personally. If anyone viewing this has had a different experience that can be documented and verified, I plead with you to share it with me. I must warn you: even if you were to produce such of guardian ad litem, I would ask whether what the guardian ad litem charged for such a thing justify the expense when the child could have been interviewed directly by the judge instead.

Third, even if we were to grant that a guardian ad litem somehow furnished accurate evidence and analysis—without the basis of that evidence and analysis being subject to discovery and verification and without having to make a record of what the children are asked and what they say in response—the amount and quality of such evidence and analysis still does not justify the time and money consumed by the appointment of a guardian ad litem compared to the much lower cost, much shorter consumption of time, and greater accuracy of a judge’s on the record interview of the child.

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

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GAL recommendations are nowhere close to being the best way

GAL recommendations are nowhere close to being the best way to determining the child’s best interest.

This post is the thirteenth 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.

If a guardian ad litem claims to tell the court what a child said, that violates the rule against hearsay and violates the privilege against disclosure of attorney client communications.

When I point out to the court a guardian ad litem’s attempts to proffer hearsay statements, I am either ignored or told that there is a special exception for guardians ad litem (which is not true). When I try to invoke Utah rule of evidence 806 to cross examine a child on the hearsay statements (to determine whether what the child is alleged to have said is actually what the child said), I’m either giving an emperor’s new clothes kind of denial or just ignored. Now you understand that if the judge would question the child directly, there would be little to no need to cross-examine the child in the first place (if the judge questioned the children well, for example). Likewise, if a judge would question a child directly there would rarely, if ever, be a need to appoint a guardian ad litem or custody evaluator for the child’s benefit either. I do not understand why we have guardians ad litem or custody evaluators serve the purpose of “giving the child a voice” when the child has his or her own voice and is perfectly capable of using it, especially in articulating and attempting to advance the child’s own best interest by speaking directly with the court as to the child’s experiences, observations, ceilings, concerns, opinions and desires, without the child’s words being parsed or filtered or misconstrued by second and third hand intermediaries.

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

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Why Not Have the Judge Interview the Children About Child Custody?

Why Not Have the Judge Interview the Children About Child Custody?

Why Appoint a GAL or Custody Evaluator When the Judge Can Interview the Children?

This post is the first 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.

I can imagine a case in which ordering a custody evaluation and/or appointment of a guardian ad litem may be warranted, even necessary, but generally guardians ad litem and custody evaluations are an obscene waste of time and money and effort. They don’t just fail to justify their costs; they spectacularly fail to justify their costs. Instead, in the overwhelming majority of child custody disputes, the court can and should interview the children directly. The Utah Code expressly provides for this. Section 30-3-10(5), to be exact. Yet in 24 years of practice I have never had a judge agree to interview a child in a child custody dispute. Not once. And I submit that’s ridiculous. In the posts that follow we will discuss why judges interviewing children is clearly superior to appointing guardians ad litem and/or custody evaluations for the vast majority of child custody dispute cases.

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

 

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There is nothing a GAL could learn how to do that a judge cannot also learn how to do equally well.

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.

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

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If everyone agrees that the judge needs to know what the child is experiencing, observing, and feeling, why won’t the judge interview the child?

If everyone agrees that the judge needs to know what the child is experiencing, observing, and feeling, why won’t the judge interview the child?

 

This post is the seventh 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.

 

I respectfully submit that claiming a child will know or “feel” a painful or harmful difference between an interview conducted by a judge as opposed to an interview by a GAL and/or custody evaluator is patently without merit. There is no independently verifiable proof for the claim that a judge interviewing a child on the subject of child custody issues inherently harms a child or exposes a child to a risk of harm. And when you think about, the very idea that a judge talking to a child will cause the child some kind of unwarranted harm—if indeed any real harm at all—is silly on its face.

 

If everyone agrees that the judge needs to know what the child is experiencing, observing, and feeling, what concerns the child, and what the child’s opinions and desires are, the idea that the best way to do this is through an interview by anyone but the judge is as absurd as it is counterproductive. Worse, to suggest that a guardian ad litem (who got literally a few hours of training in a hotel ballroom seminar and YouTube) or mental health professional thousands of dollars and take weeks or months to provide a milquetoast report and recommendations is indefensible.

 

You may ask why custody evaluators analyses and recommendations are usually so vague and timid. It’s a fair and crucial question. It’s out of fear of being reported to DOPL or sued for malpractice by the parent against whom the evaluator may make adverse recommendations. Knowing this, it is impossible to justify why so many judges and lawyers are so resistant to a judge conducting the interview of the child directly and on the record.

 

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

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Which Is Better: spending thousands on GAL/custody evaluator or $0 on a judge interview?

Which Is Better: spending thousands on GAL/custody evaluator or $0 on a judge interview?

How could it be better to spend thousands on a GAL or custody evaluator when the judge can interview children free of charge?

This post is the sixth 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.

How could it be better to spend thousands on a GAL or custody evaluator when the judge can interview children free of charge? In 24 years of law practice, I have never had a judge agree to interview children in lieu of having a private guardian ad litem appointed and/or having a custody evaluator appointed. I submit that it’s not because my arguments lack merit. Indeed, I have yet to encounter a valid, let alone a compelling, argument for why it is better to spend thousands, even tens of thousands, on guardians ad litem and or custody evaluators when the judge can interview children directly, free of charge (as opposed to obtaining so-called “evidence” via court-sponsored hearsay in the form of second, and often third hand information of interviews with the children that allegedly took place but were never made part of the court’s record). There are two main excuses one will hear for why judges should not interview children: 1) judges interviewing children is inherently traumatic for children and/or “puts them in the middle of their parents’ disputes” and thus unjustifiably traumatizes them too; and 2) judges are not qualified to interview children where guardians ad litem and or custody evaluators, and only guardians had lied them and/or custody evaluators, are qualified to do so. Neither justification holds water, as I have explained and will continue to explain in these videos. If anyone would like to hold a debate on this subject, it would be of benefit to everyone involved in child custody disputes, from the child to the parents to the parent’s respective lawyers to the judge.

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

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Believing Judges Interviewing Children Harms Children Rests on False Premises

This post is the eighth 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.

 

To conclude that judges interviewing children harms them rests on the false premise that judges are insensitive and/or incompetent. There is obviously no inherent difference between having a judge interview a child and having a guardian ad litem interview a child. Lawyers and judges know that there is nothing about a guardian ad litem that is any better or worse than a judge when it comes to ability to question children. Judges are former lawyers, after all.

To conclude that judges who interview children inherently harm, or inherently expose children to undue risks of harm must necessarily rest on the premise that judges who interview children are insensitive and/or incompetent. For all my criticisms of the legal system, I would be lying if I claimed that all or most or even a statistically significant number of judges are too insensitive and too incompetent to question children about child custody issues without harming them any more than an interview conducted by a guardian ad litem or custody evaluator would harm children.

 

If a judge were to claim that his or her ability to question children is worse than a guardian ad litem’s ability to question children because the judge lacked GAL training, then the problem would clearly not lie in the judge’s status as a judge but in a lack of training.

GAL training is a matter of hours, not years or even months. So, the training and skills gap between a trained GAL and an untrained judge could be closed quickly and easily by the judge getting that same GAL training. It wouldn’t even cost the judge any money because the Utah State Office of Guardian ad Litem has offered to provide judges with GAL training free of charge.

 

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

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Does having the judge interview the children traumatize the children?

Does having the judge interview the children traumatize the children?

 

This post is the second 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.

 

Does having the judge interview the children traumatize the children? You may have heard the argument along the lines of, “Having a judge interview children is tantamount to child abuse.” If you haven’t heard it yet, all you have to do to make that happen is propose that the judge interview your children. The same people who claim judges interviewing kids harms kids will, with a straight face, claim that having a child interviewed by a guardian ad litem or custody evaluator is in some way functionally and/or effectively different from and better than being interviewed by a judge. Really?

 

I submit to you that virtually no child knows or cares about the difference between a judge or a guardian ad litem or psychologist interviewing a child. And while I will be among the first to admit that a mental health professional like an LCSW or psychologist may generally be a bit more skilled than the average judge at interviewing children about child custody issues, I submit that the difference is not so great as to justify spending $3,000 to $10,000 or more on a custody evaluation with an LCSW or psychologist, especially when the custody evaluation interview, like the interviews with the GAL, are not on the record, which means there’s no way of knowing how well the interviews were conducted or what said or not said by the child, if in fact the interviews ever took place at all.

Contrastingly, an interview conducted by the judge, as authorized by the Utah legislature/Utah Code § 30-3-10(5), is free of charge to the parents, takes far less time than an interview with a custody evaluator, would take about as much time as an interview would with a GAL, is directly from the child witness’s mouth to the judge’s ear (that way there are no hearsay or other second hand information concerns), and is on the record to ensure that there is no question as to how well the interview was conducted, what the child was and was not asked, and what the child did and did not say in response.

 

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

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Do underage children have any say in custody in the U.S.?

Do underage children have any say in custody in the U.S.?

In my jurisdiction where I practice family law (Utah), the answer may be hard to discern by reading the Utah Code, but here it is (I’ll explain it after you read it):

Utah Code § 30-3-10. Custody of children in case of separation or divorce — Custody consideration.

(1)(d) A child may not be required by either party to testify unless the trier of fact determines that extenuating circumstances exist that would necessitate the testimony of the child be heard and there is no other reasonable method to present the child’s testimony.

(1)(e) The court may inquire of a child and take into consideration the child’s desires regarding future custody or parent-time schedules, but the expressed desires are not controlling and the court may determine the child’s custody or parent-time otherwise. The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor.

(1)(f) If an interview with a child is conducted by the court pursuant to Subsection (1)(e), the interview shall be conducted by the judge in camera. The prior consent of the parties may be obtained but is not necessary if the court finds that an interview with a child is the only method to ascertain the child’s desires regarding custody.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that children get to choose with which parent they will reside after divorce? Does it mean that children get to tell the judge what their preferences are and why?

No and no.

When the Utah Code states that “[a] child may not be required by either party to testify unless [the court] determines that extenuating circumstances exist that would necessitate the testimony of the child be heard and there is no other reasonable method to present the child’s testimony,” translated that means “a child will almost never ever testify because court will never determine that sufficient extenuating circumstances exist to necessitate the testimony of the child being heard; instead, the court will determine there are other ‘reasonable’ methods to present the child’s testimony, like a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, both of which are prohibitively expensive, second-hand sources, and not terribly reliable.”

When the Utah Code states that “[t]he court may inquire of a child and take into consideration the child’s desires regarding future custody or parent-time schedules,” “may inquire” means “never inquire.”

“The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor” means “the court can, and almost always will, do whatever it wants, irrespective of what a child may desire.”

Don’t believe me? Ask around. See if you can find a lawyer who was able to persuade a court to allow children to express their desires regarding custody and visitation directly to the judge.

So why are judges so reluctant to listen to children?

They’ll tell you that they don’t consider children terribly credible witnesses on the subject of custody because a) they are believed to be too easily manipulated and coached by one or both parents; and b) they are not “qualified” to conduct a valid interview of a young child. It’s all nonsense, but the excuses don’t have to be good, they just need to exist to provide the court with an out.

How will a judge know a child is too easily manipulated or coached unless the judge interviews the child? You can’t disqualify a witness on mere beliefs and stereotypes. And if a judge begs off of interview a child by claiming he/she is not “qualified” to conduct the interview, then the judge isn’t qualified to be a judge. And if lack of qualifications is the excuse, the solution isn’t refusing to interview the child, it’s getting qualified.

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

https://www.quora.com/Do-underage-children-have-any-say-in-custody-in-the-US/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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