Editorial: In GAL Debate, Best Interest Of The Child Must Remain Top Priority

By now, everyone is fully aware of the ongoing debate over guardians ad litem, attorneys for minor children, and the various criticisms of judges and virtually all of the legal professionals involved in contested divorce and family matters involving children. In the legislature, bills have been passed. In the Superior Court Rules Committee, changes to the Practice Book are being drafted.

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Originally appeared in print as In GAL Debate, Best Interest Of The Child Must Remain Top Priority

What's being said

  • Dad of 3

    "In cases of this nature, it is safe to say that every decision maker lacks perfect information" I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. The judges and court appointed lawyers don‘t have a clue what is in the true best interest of children. They just use the process of Family Court judgements to isolate one parent from their children at the behest of the other parent. Instead they should be forcing "Shared Parenting" on both parties. The author said it herself. No single factor is dispositive and in the end, the decision-maker must decide between the competing claims of two (often very good and capable) parents based on the "best interest of the child." If both parents are capable and loving than the parent trying to gain advantage over the other parent by seizing the only true assets - the kids is just using a court system to abuse the other.

  • dburgess

    The best interests of the child are best served if both parents are emotionally and physically available and the resources of the family are conserved to help raise the child. This means minimizing conflict and the fallout of too-high legal fees. Sorry, judge, about those matching Part IV-D funds - you should be funding your retirement just like the rest of us - $5500 a year in the IRA and $17,500 a year in the 401(K). We have to work 30 or 40 years to retire - you should, too.
    Each parent, absent neglect or abuse, should know that they will be with their child a full every other weekend (Friday after school until Monday am) and at least one weeknight during the school week. The range of parenting plans should be no less than 5 overnights every 14 days. That would reduce conflict considerably, along with lawyers incomes and those part IV-D matching funds for child support, as well as leave enough income for the parent not in the marital home to get set up again in another house.
    It is time for lawyers and judges to stop trying to fool us all, There is no legitimate reason to frighten parents who are normal functioning adults by threatening them with the 2 days per fortnight "visitation" or VAWA induced few hours once every two week visitation in a supervised setting. Time for legislation about shared parenting as the court system does not want or just can‘t seem to get there on their own.

  • Colleen Kerwick

    The best interests of children is to have both parents involved in their lives. If one or both parents have problems collaborating, they should be rehabilitated. Unfortunately, collaboration has not been encouraged by the clique which runs the custody industry in Connecticut. Conflict is abundantly more profitable. For the best interests of children to take center stage, the parents should deal with their conflict via LMFTs and mediators in lieu of attorneys and courts..at least until the powers that be within the Family Court acknowledges that the system is broken and takes real steps towards a cure.

  • Elizabeth

    For 12 years, my ex and I shared joint custody. Sure, there were disagreements. Who gets Christmas Eve vs. who gets Christmas morning, who should pay for medical insurance vs. who should get reimbursed, who should pick up from soccer practice vs. who should drop off, etc. That was the sort of drivel that brought us to having a GAL put on our case. Words like ‘sole custody‘ and accusations like ‘alienation‘ and ‘mental illness‘ had never been uttered or even thought of for TWELVE years. The GAL, the ‘child advocate‘, hired to help is assigned to our case and suddenly we are told the other wants sole custody with limited visitation. We are told to longer communicate to each other and only use familywizard.com that will be scrutinized by the ‘professionals‘. We are both told to pay unfathomable amounts or we will lose contact with our child. We both get terrified and bullied for four years. We were billed a combined total of over $100K by the GAL who met with our child less than 4 hours in 4 years. To this day, the GAL is on our ‘case‘ even though we are in full agreement with each other behind her back and our daughter is now 16. Our daughter has no college fund anymore. We both refinanced our homes and got severely in debt trying to pay off the GAL or hiring lawyers to help what we thought was a blood bath. Neither of us lost our child. These aren‘t the words of the bitter, disgruntled parent who lost a court case. We were repeatedly lied to, lied about, mis-billed, threatened and bullied. And it isn‘t right. GALs in Connecticut are getting away with the unthinkable and there needs to be some checks & balance systems put in place. Anyone who says differently hasn‘t experienced the extreme horror that our GAL put our entire family through.

  • Maureen Martowska

    I agree with the author‘s remark that the best interest of the child must always remain front and center for both the court as well as the parents. However, I disagree with the statement that ". . . it is exactly because each of the parents has those same rights that the constitution provides absolutely no help in such cases." Rather, it is when these rights are trampled and disrespected that the child‘s best interests are undermined and abandoned.

    It is at these precise times when the integrity of the family is being most severely challenged that the child‘s constitutional right to familial integrity, affiliation, and affection must be closely guarded, strongly asserted, and adamantly protected. Far too often, a parent‘s access is denied or restricted absent abuse and neglect when one parent decides to leverage false accusations to his/her advantage, The strict scrutiny test of constitutional rights is replaced (absent a finding of abuse and neglect) with an unweighted subjective "best interest of the child" test. Lost in this concept is the fact that the child also has a constitutional right to family integrity and familial relationships that when denied or abridged levies its own emotional toll (as statistics have borne out) on the child with its own detrimental consequences --- often when the child is no longer under the purview of the court.

    The greatest value of the recent legislative act with regard to GAL reform is not that it offers the "decison-maker" a wider variety of legislatively established language to describe the basis of a custody decision but rather that it is a step to restore public trust and confidence in a GAL system that previously had no oversight, no formal guidance, and no accountability and very quickly was eroding judicial credibility. I believe that most parents simply want to know they are being dealt with fairly, timely, efficiently, respectfully, and with transparency.

    Maureen Martowska

  • Joanna Gould Whitcup, PHD, Greenwich, Ct

    So, what is "the best interest of the child?" This is a phrase repeatedly thrown around with no immediate discussion, or perhaps universal understanding, of the answer.
    As a Gal, and a veteran family therapist, I would like to suggest the following;
    The best interest of the child is to have a solid, cooperative parental support system behind them --- at every turn.
    Parents can disagree, even with fervor, without negating their solid vow to make decisions for the children‘s benefit, rather than for their own.
    Some of the most egregious errors surround choice of schools, time with grandparents, numbers of days and commute time to and from second homes.
    Another very contentious subject is the addition of new spouses, and new siblings. Blended families, as we now know, do not happen because of law. They develop over time because of sensitivity to the fragility of feelings and the wounds of divorce wars. Birth parents must be super conscious of the difficulties in children‘s loyalties and developmental deficits. Young children only know, "Who comes first?" " Who can I count on to be there for me?" "Why are my parents acting like they hate each other?"
    Try to imagine yourself in the child‘s position as opposed to concentrating concern on what will work best for your schedule, your broken heart, your jealousy. Think about what you never got from Your parents as a child and make it better. Break the cycle of poor parental judgement and do something good for your children.

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