The ongoing debate about the costs and fairness of the Connecticut guardian ad litem (“GAL”) system may finally result in significant reform to current divorce and custody court procedures. GALS are used to represent the best interests of children in family law proceedings.The General Assembly voted in unanimous support of Senate Bill 494, which provides for the expansion of parental rights in custody and divorce proceedings. Though this bill must still be signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy, our family law attorneys believe that the passing of this bill will have a significant impact on the status and use of GALs in both divorce and custody proceedings.
Complaints About the Current System
The new regulations are the result of the complaints by parents who have had to go through child custody and divorce proceedings that require the use of GALs. It is estimated that around 80 percent of Connecticut family court cases have at least one parent representing his or herself on a pro se basis, presumably because they do not have the money to afford an attorney. These parents have expressed horror stories where they have ended up in financial ruin because of the expensive GAL fee costs, in addition to other court costs.
Many parents believe that GALs have even stretched out court proceedings in order to recoup higher fees. The distrust of the current GAL selection process has often been expressed, and these parents argue that judges have shown favoritism in their use of judicial discretion in the assignment of GALs to cases. This is significant because current laws do not provide a means through which parents can submit a formal objection or removal request for a court appointed GAL.
The legal community has acknowledged that attorneys, who make up 70 percent of the GAL population, have ended up taking on cases that were extremely difficult, but assert that many did not receive the big fees of which parents have complained. However, GALs have reported even receiving threats from parties to the case, presumably a result of the stress facing parties to child custody and divorce proceedings. Ultimately the unanimous votes from both the Connecticut House and Senate indicate that both sides of these legal battles have expressed a desire for significant changes to the current GAL standards.
Key Guardian Ad Litem Reforms
On April 25th, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted 120-0, and the Connecticut State Senate voted 5-0 that the GAL reforms be sent to the Governor. The reforms draw back judicial discretion in the appointment of GALs. It provides legal standing to parties in family law cases to request the removal of a GAL. It also requires judges to set a written scope of the work a GAL will conduct, fee limits, as well as deadlines for case completion. The new legislation also requires that families be provided with a list of choices with at least 15 possible GALs from whom they can choose. Lastly, when appointing a GAL judges must consider a variety of issues including both parties financial situations, location to the GAL’s office, and financial circumstances.
The unanimous support for GAL reform in Connecticut could indicate that additional changes could be coming to the entire current child custody and divorce system. Contact the family law attorneys here at Greenberg & Krieger in Fairfield County, Connecticut for any questions you may have about GALs or any other family law related issues.