Legislature Considers Guardian Ad Litem Reform

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

   | 11 Comments

Appointed by judges to represent the interests of children in custody disputes, guardians ad litem typically operate below the radar of public opinion. But in recent weeks, they have come under a microscope.

What's being said

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    In my case, Barry Armata actually approached my elderly mother and told her that unless SHE paid him $3,500 - "he would not be able to help her see her grandchildren." When my young sons were unable to see their grandmother for no good reason - a grandmother who they had seen every day of their lives - they thought she had died and was calling them from heaven. Upon hearing this, Mr. Armata did absolutely to correct the problem for MONTHS - and instead suggested my elderly mother - who lived through the horrors of the Nazis and then Stalin "get therapy." When a therapist was horrified at this and the impact it was having on my sons and wanted to write the judge - Mr. Armata called the therapist and told her to "keep her mouth shut." This is reflective of the wonderful attorneys we have working as GALs in this state. Mr. Armata has the gall to call himself a "SuperLawyer." He is not.

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    Guardian ad Litems in this state everything BUT represent the "best interests of the child." Most of them have no background whatsoever in child welfare - yet preach to parents how they should raise their children. In one case, a GAL‘s own teenage son was arrested four times and she is telling parents how to raise their kids. One of the busiest GALs in this state has no children of her and has never raised a child - yet made millions telling parents how they should be parents. GALs in Massachusetts are not attorneys, they are mental health professionals. In most states, they are parent volunteers from all walks of life who are per per diem like a juror and do NOT bill tends (hundreds) of thousands of dollars. In Connecticut, the entire GAL system has been taken over by a very small group of failed family law attorneys for the guaranteed paycheck and they hit the lottery every time they are assigned to a case.

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    The Blind Men and the Elephant
    John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

    It was six men of Indostan
    To learning much inclined,
    Who went to see the Elephant
    (Though all of them were blind),
    That each by observation
    Might satisfy his mind.

    The First approached the Elephant,
    And happening to fall
    Against his broad and sturdy side,
    At once began to bawl:
    "God bless me! but the Elephant
    Is very like a WALL!"
    The Second, feeling of the tusk,
    Cried, "Ho, what have we here,
    So very round and smooth and sharp?
    To me ‘tis mighty clear
    This wonder of an Elephant
    Is very like a SPEAR!"

    The Third approached the animal,
    And happening to take
    The squirming trunk within his hands,
    Thus boldly up and spake:
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a SNAKE!"

    The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
    And felt about the knee
    "What most this wondrous beast is like
    Is mighty plain," quoth he:
    "‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
    Is very like a TREE!"

    The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
    Said: "E‘en the blindest man
    Can tell what this resembles most;
    Deny the fact who can,
    This marvel of an Elephant
    Is very like a FAN!"

    The Sixth no sooner had begun
    About the beast to grope,
    Than seizing on the swinging tail
    That fell within his scope,
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a ROPE!"

    And so these men of Indostan
    Disputed loud and long,
    Each in his own opinion
    Exceeding stiff and strong,
    Though each was partly in the right,
    And all were in the wrong!

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    In my situation, my ex and I paid $50,000 in total for GAL fees. My two younger children are legally blind and for eight years prior to filing for divorce, I had a BESB caseworker visit my home on a weekly basis. However, when I filed for divorce and a GAL was assigned, the GAL never once spoke to the caseworker from BESB. The GAL and the custody evaluator said they were unable to reach her, yet I am aware that she was sitting on the other end of the phone waiting to be called. Further, her testimony was available in a deposition was readily available in written form, yet neither the GAL nor the custody evaluator chose to look at it. Why? Because the caseworker stated that I was an excellent mother. Is that why? I had a list of ten friends and neighbors who were ready to speak to the GAL about my parenting, but the GAL never bothered to call any one of them. Why? Because they had good things to say about me and the GAL didn‘t want to hear it? Meanwhile, my ex husband medically neglected my children repeatedly and nothing was ever done about that. Chief Justice Chase Rogers can talk all she wants about what a great judicial system we have here in CT, but as long as there is case after case after case of negligence and incompetence, and GALs harassing and bullying parents and calling them mentally ill without any documentary or testimonial evidence whatsoever in flagrant violation of federal ADA law, there is no way that the CT Judicial system has reached even the minimal standards of competence Citizens of this State have a right to expect, particularly given the massive sums of money we and our children are personally paying for it.

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    I would like to make it clear that we‘re talking about child custody cases in which no allegations of abuse or neglect have been made. This population of parents do not agree in how much time the other parent should spend with their child so Guardians Ad Litem are suggested and then court-appointed. I still don‘t understand WHY a GAL needs to implant themselves into a family because parents don‘t agree. If the court believes these children are at risk, then they need to bring in DCF otherwise, stay out of the lives of these families. They need time to heal. They need family therapy to work on issues. They need a judge to put his/her foot down and make orders that are to be followed. I can‘t understand why psychological evaluations are thrown around as if they actually benefit anyone in a family. Judge Elaine Gordon mentions in her video that was made years back on the Judicial Branch website, children don‘t need strangers in their lives and they certainly don‘t need to be asked which parent they like most. By inserting a GAL, AMC or mental health professional to conduct custody evaluations into the lives of a child during a divorce is, in my opinion negligent. It‘s not in the best interest of any child. The courts perpetuate the legal disputes by letting it carry on. The more professionals involved, the more the children are involved. It needs to stop.

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    Why is a Lawyer considered capable of being a Guardian Ad Litem at all? It seems bizarre to me that a Family Attorney is considered to be someone that is able to make recommendations on behalf of the best interest of children!??!! This is the crux of the reason that this is NOT WORKING. Six weeks of "training" is not going to change anything substantially either. Family Attorneys are not experts in children and matters involving children. If that is logical, than by all means create a 6 week course and allow anyone that has passed the bar to be a child psychologist or teacher for that matter! Come on Connecticut wake up! Let‘s appoint people that have studied child psychology and family dynamics as the "guardian‘s" to these precious children. They are after all the future of our country. Do not put them in the hands of Family Lawyers!!!

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    Please refer to the comment I posted on the Courant‘s website with respect to Chief Justice Rogers op-ed piece.

    As for the claims that GAL‘s work tirelessly to protect children, I can give many examples of the contrary. Of course I can not speak on behalf of every case, but I have heard enough stories of GAL‘s covering up facts of a case for no other reason than they can.

    Please refer to the testimony of the January 9 public hearing to hear the many stories of the inappropriate GAL behavior.

    Emboldened by the courage of those who spoke out on January 9, we are hoping that many more persons will come out from the fear that they have suffered for far too long and speak out on March 24 about the crimes committed by the GAL‘s on their case and the real reason for reform. Not simply the perception that we are merely bitter at a ruling that did not go in our favor.

    Hector Morera

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    This is not an issue of "judicial independence." This is an issue of widespread corruption and tax evasion in the family court‘s Guardian ad Litem system - which is being promoted and allowed by family court judges who used to be Guardian ad Litems.

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    There is quite frankly nothing an GAL does that a high school student couldn‘t do - an do far better. Being a GAL is not a professional, it is not a trade, is it is not a vocation. No one goes to college or trade school or law school to become a GAL. GALs are largely failed family law attorneys looking for a guaranteed paycheck - nothing more. And they hit the lottery every time they are assigned to a case. GALs are either free or pay per diem like jurors and parent volunteers in most states - why are they allowed to bill like attorneys and milk parents dry here?

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    "I disagree with those who say the system is totally broken," Rogers wrote in the Hartford Courant. "To the contrary, we are fortunate in Connecticut to have extremely capable Family Court judges who work diligently toward one overeaching goal to do what is in the best interest of the children."

    Can the Chief Justice point to any report or criteria that would back up the conclusion that he is making? or is he just expecting people to believe in him?

    "If members of the public want to see where some of the most difficult court cases in Connecticut are handled, they need only to visit Family Court, where painful and heart wrenching scenarios unfold every day. These cases, by their very nature, involve the breakdown of a relationship between two adults, the custody of their children and the division of their finances."

    The good Judge does not even understand what divorce is about, he can only give the self serving lawyers view. Divorce is simply about people choosing to go their own way.

    It is the lawyers and the judges that they become that want to make it as painful as possible. There is money in the conflict they create. They certainly do not have the decency to leave children alone. Putting children in the crossfire of their manufactured conflicts raises the stakes, which is my these lawyers and the judges they become behave so badly.

    The story is not new, they‘re from the government and they‘re here to help. If they had just an ounce of decency they would leave the children alone.

    Patrick McCabe

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