A Guardian ad Litem [GAL] is an attorney appointed by the court to investigate a divorce and custody case, report their findings, and make recommendations supposedly based on the child’s “best interests.”
It doesn’t always work that way.
Family Court Reform Advocate Peter Szymonik
Excerpts from a CT Law Tribune article by a long-time advocate for CT Family Court reform.
By Peter Szymonik
Parents lose their homes and jobs and are ordered to liquidate their retirement accounts and children’s college funds.
We have allowed a tiny group of family law attorneys and GALs to directly and adversely impact family court operations in a manner designed to personally enrich themselves at the expense of parents and families.
Our state’s GALs are almost exclusively family law attorneys who enjoy complete immunity and have been granted quasi-judicial authority – this is not common elsewhere in the country.
Our GALs are not held to any standard of performance or excellence, and they are not licensed or monitored. They are allowed to bill with impunity with the expected results.
GALs in this state legally trump a parent’s right to be a parent as soon as they are assigned to the case. These individuals are allowed to make life-altering decisions directly impacting children and families, as judges routinely outsource their judicial authority to them – for the entire life of a case.
Catharine Sloper, Author, Blogger, Victim of Family Court
When there is high conflict, GALs get involved in a family they previously knew nothing about and pass judgment. Often, GALs will pursue policies or make statements and judgments about the families they are working for, which are profoundly hurtful and false, and then use them to deny one or the other parent access to their children.
A CT Judge: There’s a Problem
CT Mothers’ Hero, Keith Harmon Snow
Corruption and judicial abuse is being perpetrated through GAL systems.
Connecticut courts conspire to assist GALs…. in abusing and denying the constitutional and human rights of protective mothers… GALs have quasi-judicial powers allowing them to commit procedural crimes and threaten protective parents — it’s not just moms — with sanctions that include reductions in visitation rights with their children. The decisions by these GALS have been rubber-stamped by the CT courts.
State Rep. Gonzalez: Eliminate GALs
The CT Latino News reported: State Rep. Minni Gonzalez said that parents tap into retirement funds or children’s college savings to pay GAL fees, which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars or more.
The way guardians ad litem are paid — billing by the hour, with no cap — gives them an incentive to prolong conflicts while leaving parents with little choice but to pay.
“We don’t need guardians ad litem, period,” Gonzalez said.
Judges who often face conflicting stories from the parties about abuse and the children’s relationship with their parents may be tempted to rely on the recommendations of “neutral” third parties such as the GALs… Indeed, the recommendations of a GAL are often given great weight by judges, often even constituting the most important factor a judge considers.
This deference to GALs’ opinions can be problematic because GALs may not be particularly qualified to determine children’s best interests. In custody cases, courts often ask those performing the role of guardian ad litem to render expert opinions even though they do not have the requisite training to do so… In effect, they are imbued with expertise merely by virtue of having been placed in that role, irrespective of their actual background.
GALs are given broad authority akin to that of a judge…: A guardian is not barred by rules of discovery or privilege from investigating every nook and cranny of a child’s life.
Guardians also have a right to determine what relevant facts should be entered into the record, or at the least to provide more credibility to one side’s presentation of the facts. GAL’s wide de facto power allows them broad discretion akin to a judge’s exercise of judicial power.
In fact, GALs “can easily have more power than any other person in a custody proceeding, including the judge.”
Enablers Ad Litem: Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Cases
One of the great paradoxes in the nation’s family courts is the role of the guardian ad litem in custody cases involving domestic violence and child abuse… The appointment of a GAL in an ordinary situation … can simply raise the expenses of the parents, increase the arbitrariness already inherent in deciding the amorphous best interest issues, and compromise due process.
However, in domestic violence and abuse cases, where courts are even more eager to appoint GALs, children are frequently ending up in the custody of the abusers and separated from their protecting parents.
This tragedy does not happen in spite of the GALs, but rather because of the GALs… GALs actively and forcefully advocate for the children to be placed with violent child abusers and sexual molesters.
[T]he non-violent parent may be at a disadvantage, and behavior that would seem reasonable as a protection from abuse may be misinterpreted as a sign of instability.
The custodial preference for the parent who encourages the child’s relationships with the other parent often referred to as the ‘friendly parent,’ typically trumps the mother and child’s protection despite the fact that such ‘friendliness’ is contraindicated.
Since GALs are usually plucked from the family court bar, they bring these same misguided principles to bear on the cases. Any attempt to claim, despite the abundant proof of the reality of the situation, that a father is dangerous is simply dumped into the category of ‘conflict’ – the ultimate anathema in the eyes of the family court judge.
Family courts throughout the United States, with the help of guardians ad litem, are likewise placing sexually abused children with parents who molested them. This outrageous trend is primarily the product of two developments.
First, there is widespread – but absolutely false – assumption that a sexual abuse allegation made in the context of a divorce or custody case is likely to be false…
Second, family court judges and guardians ad litem often succumb to the… discredited and essentially pro- pedophilia theory concocted by Richard Gardner called ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’ or ‘PAS.’ This non-existent ‘syndrome’ posits that when children display fear of one parent, typically the father, report abuse by that parent, and exhibit symptoms of trauma such as sexual abuse, the real culprit is the child’s mother who ‘programmed’ the child into this damaged relationship. The ‘treatment of choice’ is to give the ‘alienated parent’ – or the true abuser – custody and severely limit the other parent’s contact with the child.
One irony of this so-called ‘PAS’ is that the increased existence of valid evidence of true sexual abuse leads Gardner and his devotees to more fervently diagnose ‘PAS.’ Thus, ‘PAS’ is the criminal defense attorney’s dream, since the greater the proof of the crime, the greater the proof of the defense…
Thus, when a GAL is poised to represent the ‘interests’ of a child who is exhibiting extreme fear of a parent, it is frequently the GAL’s argument… that the child should be in the custody of that same parent, despite substantial evidence of abuse warranting the fear, in order to ‘treat’ PAS…
Fees for guardians ad litem in contested custody cases can amount to many thousands of dollars. The court then forces the parents to pay through its contempt of court power…
Furthermore, parents incur additional fees for their own attorneys whose work is increased by having to communicate with the GAL or take countermeasures to undue the GAL’s damage…
Beyond the available contempt power to assist in fee collection, GALs are also cloaked with a priceless safeguard. Divorcing parents commonly land in bankruptcy court, but the GAL’s fees are not dischargeable… The federal courts have equated GAL fees with child support without realizing that these non-discharged fees are indeed taking food from children’s mouths and clothing from their backs.
Ducote compares the Family Court judge and the GAL to the rhino and the tick bird.
The rhino roams about with an ever-present tick bird perched on him, feasting upon the living smorgasbord found there. The rhino (family court judge) is relieved of the annoying task of disposing of the irritating insects (child custody cases) by delegating it to an eager member of another species (the GAL). In return, the bird is well fed (fees, collected with the help of the court’s contempt power) and enjoys a free ride (immunity from screw-ups).
GALS to Avoid If You’re Getting Divorced From an Abusive Husband
In CT, it doesn’t matter if the children are attached to their mother. It doesn’t matter what the children want. It doesn’t matter if there are credible allegations of sexual abuse against the father. If the father has money and the mother doesn’t, rest assured these GALs will wrest the children from their mother, make her penniless, get the judge to order no contact between mother and children, and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from the grateful father.
Their weapon of choice is the Parental Alienation Syndrome. The GALs’ remedy is removing the children from the stay-at-home mother’s home and giving sole custody to the affluent father. If the mother, or children, try to bring credible allegations of sexual abuse by the father to the GAL, this is further evidence of parental alienation. If the mother presses too hard to protect her children, the GAL will inform the court that she has a mental disorder. Without a psychiatric diagnosis, the judge will accept the GAL’s opinion and declare from the bench that the mother is unstable and deny the mother contact with the children.
GAL Jill Plancher recommended that a sex-addicted, abusive father, who has credible allegations of sexual abuse of his children, get primary custody since he has money, depriving the children of their mother.
In another case, a physically abusive but wealthy father got custody, while the stay-at-home mother was denied contact and made homeless.
The mother has not seen her child for years.
Candace V. Fay, GAL, is not above acts of fraud and barely escaped prison for stealing money from one of her wards. A second fraud case is pending. In another case, where the mother had a significant financial advantage over the father, she gave custody to the mother, despite her drug addiction, her admission to selling drugs, a suicide attempt, psychiatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder indicating she is suicidal [Faye hid that from the record], and her cruel act of killing her cat. The father had no credible allegations against him.
GAL Mary Piscitelli Brigham. In one case, she defied natural law and took children from their mother when the wealthy father was alive. After he died, she recommended custody not to the mother but to the newly wealthy widow who married the father on his deathbed.
Brigham terminated the mother’s parental rights and gave the merry widow the children and their trust funds.
Jocelyn Hurwitz recommended that the abusive father have sole custody after stealing the marital assets after agreeing to expand her work scope. She recommended denying the children contact with their primary attachment figure, their mother, who raised them for 13 years as a stay-at-home mother, while the father lived 2500 miles away. Imagine the shock of the children when they were ordered out of their protective and happy home and into the custody of a man they said abused them. Hurwitz used Parental Alienation as a tool without any evidence to support her statement.
Almost two years have gone by, and the children still cry out to strangers to be heard – their goal = to get back home to their mother. Meantime she has become homeless. Hurwitz, however, has billed almost enough to buy a new home. She has billed $200,000 on the case, and it is not over yet.
To enhance her billings, Hurwitz requires her clients to waive the state statute governing GALs.
GAL Janis Laliberte worked to give sole custody to a wealthy father with an established history of hebephilia, limiting the stay at home mother’s parenting with her child and requiring that the mother who raised the child all his life- while the father was busy with his career and allegedly raping teenagers children- could not see her child without a paid supervisor to witness. This ensured that the child was not questioned about his father’s sexual abuse.
When this protective mother tried to present information of sexual abuse by the father, GAL Laliberte rushed to the court to prevent the disclosure, recommending that the court make its own psychiatric diagnosis. Judge Jane Grossman declared the mother had a mental illness without a competent medical diagnosis and then banned the mother from coming within 100 yards of her child while permitting the affluent father to get as close as he wanted.
Don’t Do It
Divorcing parents may not realize that, though they pay the GAL, they have handed legal control of their children to a stranger once they agree to appoint her.
The dirty little secret – which many experts fail to realize or don’t wish to mention – is that this annoying deprivation of children of their mothers in favor of abusive fathers is not done simply by some misguided but sincere adherence to Parental Alienation.
Just the opposite. Parental alienation is used as an excuse to tap the affluent father to pay through the nose. This is business, and like so many other professions, GALs are too often the opposite of what they profess. They are heartless.
If one parent has more money, he has a significant advantage since he will pay most or all of the GAL’s fees. This creates an opportunity for the rapacious GAL [an attorney, after all] to bill more hours. The more affluent parent, in turn, influences her custody decisions.
Since he is paying the bill, he can agree, over the objection of his spouse, to expand the GAL’s investigation, usually into the alleged misdeeds of the poorer spouse.
A GAL can declare one parent has mental issues without a medical diagnosis. She can ignore credible accounts of abuse. The judge will believe the GAL, not the parent or expert witnesses called by the parent.
A GAL has power because “the children’s best interests” trumps every other consideration in divorce and custody cases. Judges believe the GAL knows best or pretend to believe it.
It’s a money game.