If there was truth in advertising required of the judiciary in Connecticut, notice would be required to be displayed prominently, like it was said Dante displayed at the gates of Hell: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate Tribunale di famiglia di Connecticut. [Abandon all hope ye who enter CT Family Court.]
Likewise, CT attorneys should be required to advise clients about the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, an attorney who will be said to represent the best interest of the children but will commandeer the case.
Attorney Gutman: I’d like to give you a word of advice about the Guardian ad litem.
Client Spade: Go ahead.
Gutman: You’ll give her some money, but if you don’t give her what she thinks she should have, be careful.
With that advisory, meant for those not particularly obtuse, here is a primer on CT Family Court.
‘High Conflict,’ a Term of Art
The two words “high conflict” is one of the sweetest sounds in the English language when spoken by or to family law attorneys, especially those lucky lawyers appointed as Guardians ad Litem [GAL], a lawyer appointed to protect “the children’s best interests.”
High conflict is a joyful noise for a collegial group of therapists, who serve at the behest of the GAL, to look out for the best interest of children.
High conflict means the parent with more money usually gets custody, but not before an appropriate percentage of marital assets has been paid to lawyers, the GAL, and therapists.
High conflict means the parents, or at least one of them, has money.
If neither has money, it is handled differently. In CT, the poor, and the lower middle class, who chose to divorce and fight, just like their betters do, are sent to the Department of Children and Families [DCF] and taxpayers pay for bureaucrats to sort it out.
High conflict means the affluent get to retain the crème de la crème, family law attorneys, and therapists, who assist clients and stoke conflict when parents contemplate settling too soon.
The Custody Evaluator
Among the professionals, one stands apart for the obfuscation of her true role. The custody evaluator [CE] is given a presumption of omniscience, an anointing of infallibility, for optics require her to possess that greatest of all knowledge: the best interest of children.
She is actually retained to deliver the greatest of benefits to lawyers. Make no mistake, those of you who are not overly dense: This is her role. Nothing else. Never.
The CE’s job is to make a Custody Evaluation Report wherein she recommends the best parent for custody of children in high conflict divorces.
The report is kept secret. Parents are not allowed to keep a copy, sometimes they are not allowed to even see it. Like the Bible in Medieval times, which could only be interpreted by prelates in the getting-to-heaven business, only professionals know how to use these reports in the children’s best interest.
Other states have realized that CEs are corrupt to the core. Movements are afoot all over the nation to eliminate CEs, whose work is based on the fallacy that a psychologist can interview divorcing parents and their children for a couple of hours, and then decide the fate of the entire family.
Other states recognize that CEs are dependent on referrals by GALs and lawyers for their livelihood and are, therefore, subject to monetary influences. They recognize that CEs use discredited weapons such as the Parental Alienation Doctrine to remove one parent from the children’s lives, usually the stay-at-home mother, who generally has less money than the working father.
They recognize that CEs, though not legally authorized to diagnose anyone since they are not physicians, and the families she evaluates are not her patients, or even clients, regularly report findings of mental illness of one parent, usually never previously diagnosed as mentally ill, usually mothers, to support the extreme measure of removing the children from that parent’s life, or vastly reducing the role that that parent historically had in their children’s lives.
The CE can be ruthless and create grief and trauma for children but, because she is presumed infallible, the nightmares she causes by ripping from children’s lives their primary attachment figure in case after case are presumed by the judge to be in the best interest of the children.
Ironically, in the high conflict business, the CE makes the least money per case. She makes it up in volume. These are the checks and balances to preserve the business. Though considered the supreme authority on the best interests of children, the CE is dependent on referrals from the GAL and attorneys. They keep her in check.
This is business, nothing personal. For the CE, the children’s best interest is usually whatever the GAL says it is.
The GAL needs the CE too. Why would anyone think that attorneys, such as the GAL is, should know what is best for children?
The GAL uses the credentials of the CE, an expert on children’s best interests, to give cover for even the most outrageous decisions on custody, including frequently the exclusion of one parent from the lives of her children.
It is no exaggeration to use Russian Roulette imagery to teach dull witted or gullible spouses headed for CT Family Court. Once a CE is retained, she becomes the judge, in effect, and can summarily decide that one parent should have no contact with her children and the courts, who are not experts like she is, invariably go along with her findings. For additional optics, the CE recommends a cadre of therapists needed for the high conflict family.
Therapists, who report to the GAL, reinforce the recommendations of the GAL and the CE.
Using the same tools as the CE, the therapists come up with the same determinations for custody as the CE and the GAL. If they please the GAL, they get to keep high conflict, affluent family members as long-term clients, for the GAL will insist that custody is contingent on ongoing therapy.
Imagine the collusion: Every expert and the GAL all pointing to the same conclusion – all of them using their credentials, all saying the same thing – who could withstand it? No one knows how the GAL orchestrates every bit of this and that no one will be referred new clients who do not cooperate. The therapists can be likened to a wolf pack led by the GAL, an attorney.
In every facet of the case, the GAL plays the pivotal role. But there are checks and balances even on her.
Just as the CE is dependent on the GAL, the GAL is dependent on high conflict lawyers who refer cases to her.
It is the lawyers who put her in command of a case. Everything goes through her. She reports to the court, who invariably side with her, since she represents the best interests of the children.
But in reality, the GAL reports to the lawyers who refer her.
It is she who appoints the therapists and designates a case to be “high conflict.” She then rules the fate of the family. She must be the type who will do what the lawyers who referred her say, or they will never give her another referral.
The GAL’s role is to protect the parent who is to ultimately get custody, and spin a narrative that that parent is the victim of the other spouse.
How They Determine Custody
Most lawyers in the high conflict game know the game and know each other. If they want to stay in the game, they have to get along, which means custody is decided in advance, and the GAL and the CE are retained afterward to support it.
The plan is simple: The attorneys evaluate the net worth of combating spouses, then decide how much they can get from each, then they decide which GAL to select.
To maximize billings, the case may have to be active for three or four years. There are tools to keep conflict going, including letting one side win something, then the other side.
High conflict lawyers know that in the end whoever has the most money wins.
If a client goes rogue and makes noises about settling too soon, a high conflict lawyer will use tools – both carrot and stick – to stoke flames of conflict and icy fear of losing the children or paying high alimony – to keep them in conflict.
Good high conflict attorneys never work as adversaries with the opposing attorney. For optics, before their clients or for the record, they pretend to fight and decry the outrageous things the opposing lawyer is doing. They seem to be heated with passion for the children’s best interest. They tell their client their plan to combat it. All in billable hours.
No one, other than the clients and their children, are really upset.
The high conflict CT professionals are one big happy family. They are a model of how professionals in law and psychology like to work. Of course, there are some anomalies.
For instance, at the filthy bottom is the CE, the least scrupulous, least independent, lowest paid, but presented as the most unbiased and highly ethical professional whose only concern is the best interest of children. Like a Catholic pope, in CT Family Court, she is infallible.
At the bottom of the day, she is merely making a report made to order. If excrement flows downhill, but likes to claim itself wondrous and wise, it is like the CE.
I am reminded of an Aesop Fable: A cow pasture and an apple orchard were situated side by side by a river. The rains came and washed the turds and apples together in the water.
As the apples and turds were floating downstream, the turds were heard to exclaim, “My, how we apples can swim.”
So it is with CEs. They say they are top professionals, and call themselves psychologists, but, unlike good practicing psychologists who have their client’s best interest at heart, the CE’s client is the GAL and, if she wants to stay in the business, she must do what the GAL commands.
Like Hyman Roth said in the Godfather, “It is the business we have chosen.” Or Fagen, when it was lamented by a child he taught to steal, “But it is your living.”
A CE is like an appraiser who is paid to determine the price of art or jewelry or real estate. If he is retained by the buyer, he appraises low. If retained by the seller, he appraises high.
There are often huge differences in two appraisals of the same object.
The appraiser does not buy the object. He does not care about the object, he appraises. An,. ultimately, an object is worth the highest price someone will pay.
The CE is an appraiser of children, referred by the GAL. She does not care about the children. She does not buy the children. Ultimately, custody is sold for the highest price a parent will pay.
This only works because the CE is considered an expert. She is paid for her expert report and for testimony in court – and if she gets enough referrals, hers is a lucrative business, with the advantage of not having to worry about finding or maintaining clients.
On successive days, using the same circumstances, she could write a custody report favoring custody for the father and the next day for the mother and provide an 80-page report for each.
Suppose Charles Manson married Mother Teresa and they had children.
A good CE could make a report recommending that Charles Manson get sole custody, and Mother Teresa is unfit to have contact with the children, because she tried to protect the children from Manson’s abuse. The CE will claim it is Parental Alienation.
Does It Matter?
Since the attorneys, in consultation with the GAL, have predetermined how best to get their fees before the CE is appointed, and the CE is dependent on referrals, it matters little, as a professional matter, who gets the children. Not to the lawyers, not to the GAL, and certainly not the CE.
This is how it works. Don’t blame them. They don’t hide the fact they are in it for money. Parents often get mixed up about this. For them, it is personal. This is their children’s lives and happiness, their lives and happiness too.
But these are professionals. There is a path to money. It is well worn. Money flows better if the children’s best interest is determined to be whatever serves the professionals’ best interest.
Any other consideration just gets in the way. If it happens to be good for the children, so be it. If not, well that’s the way the family crumbled.
James Boswell told a story of a friend who had written a letter about his distress over another friend who might be hanged, and in the same letter he wrote about a young man who operated a pickle shop.
Samuel Johnson responded this: “Ay, Sir, here you have a specimen of human sympathy; a friend hanged, and a cucumber pickled.”
Whether a parent is hanged or a little child pickled, the professionals eat dinner tonight. They are not God to decide such weighty matters as to who is the better parent. They are business people and whoever pays most, gets their wishes fulfilled.
If people are foolish enough to not work out their differences with each other, and they have more money than brains, then it is to the high conflict family court they go, and the professionals are there ready to help them, much like the spider will welcome to the web a fly — they are there to take as high a percentage of the family’s net worth as they can devour, and any show of sympathy, or righteous indignation is all for show. With a merry twinkle of money in their eyes, from their mouths will issue forth the falsest of all sounds they can utter, “it is in the children’s best interest.”
Connecticut Family Court Delenda Est.