Custody Battle Costs Are Focus of Task Force
With law firms looking for new revenues, he said, fees have skyrocketed so that a $20,000 to $30,000 payment is not unusual.
"No one can afford a family law attorney, let alone hire a guardian ad litem," said Szymonik, a former director of technology and member of the executive board of Cummings & Lockwood. "What they're doing is milking the parents that can pay for everything they're worth."
Further, he said, many parents see little interaction between the guardian ad litem and the child, and wonder what they are paying for. He credited social media for bringing the issue to the forefront.
"They trade stories and learn, 'Hey I'm not the only person this has happened to,'" said Szymonik.
While some parents believe they are getting ripped off, lawyers have a different perspective.
Justine Rakich-Kelly, executive director of Connecticut's Children's Law Center, has heard both sides of the debate in her professional role. She said parents think the lawyers and guardians ad litem are bankrupting them, while the professionals think the parents are the problem.
She noted that many custody cases include psychiatric evaluations for either a child or a parent, which can cost over $10,000. "There are very few professionals who can do a very good forensic custody evaluation," said Rakich-Kelly. "It tends to be a lot of the same people."
And that fuels the perception, she said, that it's a small clique of professionals—whether it's psychiatrists, guardians ad litem or lawyers—who are taking advantage of parents by charging exorbitant rates.
Meanwhile, she said attorneys and guardians ad litem feel that fees are being driven up by parents who have become "conflict addicted" and won't let go of long custody battles.
"So the question is: Who is at fault for the spiraling? The parents think, 'Oh my God, you're making us do all these things and bankrupting us," said Rakich-Kelly. "And lawyers think, 'We are trying to work out agreements and just can't do it when parents won't compromise.'"