The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) made time to call and interview all the people on Kari’s list of character witnesses. The GAL interviewed the children with Kari and not Tom. She called no one on Tom’s list of character witnesses and family members nor made ny effort, when asked by Tom to do so, to follow up with them. Tom was in disbelief that the GAL seemed to believe all of Kari’s lies and her belief that Tom was the less capable parent. Her subsequent report and suggestion to the court was that Tom only have visitation one night per week for 2 hours and every other weekend with the children ending on Sunday evening at 6pm. Also, that Tom pay child support to the mother based on the increased parenting time with Mom. Kari and Tom both have similar incomes and there was never a question as to the ability of either parent to fulfill their roles. (A little background information here is needed. Kari had had several affairs during the marriage when Tom had gone overseas in order to make more money for the family. He had chosen to go to the Middle East as a contractor and, while there, he sent home approximately $10,000 per month to augment Kari’s earnings and help pay ahead on bills and on their mortgage.
Fast forward a few years, Tom comes back from the Middle East to find only $17,000 in savings left and the mortgage had not been paid off with all the extra money that Tom had been sending Kari for that purpose. The rest of the money that he had worked so hard to earn was now just gone. The missing money totaled over $800,000. In 2016, right after Tom returned home, Kari asked him for a divorce and announced that she was leaving him for another man and taking his children to Colorado. Tom later found out that Kari had been having an affair with a much older man and that a lot of the money had gone to pay for their trips and lavish gifts. Kari had planned to move with this him, and his children, to Colorado and to simply cut Tom out of the kids’ lives.
After the Guardian Ad Litem’s written recommendation to the court that Tom’s parenting time be drastically reduced and that he be forced to move out of their marital home, Tom tried to object to the decreased parenting time as he very much wanted to be a good father and remain active in his children’s lives. He recounted to me, that at the next meeting in court, the GAL and the two lawyers, in front of the judge, all pressured him to sign the new Joint Parenting Agreement (JPA) with the decreased parenting time. Tom began to cry and, with tears running down his face, asked for some rational as to why these changes were being made. He said that the two lawyers, the judge, and the GAL all stared blankly at him as he wept. He was told that if he did not sign, he would face a costly hearing that would cost tens of thousands of dollars and that he alone would pay the legal fees for both him and his wife! Tom now knows that it would have been less costly to delay the signing of the JPA and to better prepare for a trial where evidence of all the GALs biases and misdeeds may have been brought to light. As it was, Tom was now removed from the girls’ lives and Kari began to interfere with the little time that Tom was given to spend with the girls. The GAL bill totaled over $6,000 for just Tom’s half. Later in the case, the GAL even jumped in on the opposing attorney’s motion for fees and added on a request for $1,000 in additional fees for herself from Tom. The opposing attorney (and the GAL) claimed that Tom was slowing down the court process and demanded fees for their efforts at justice and efficiency. Tom was never made aware of why the GAL asked for the extra $1,000 except that she had heard that Kari’s lawyer was filing a motion for fees, so she jumped at the opportunity for extra money for herself. Up until that point, there had been no question as to whether Kari could pay the GAL or that the GAL process was “slowed down” in any way by Tom.
As it turned out, signing that document has cost Tom tens of thousands of dollars and, even more costly, precious time with his girls as they grow up. I always hear from my clients that attorneys use that phrase, “If you don’t sign this now, there will be a trial and that will cost you tens of thousands of dollars.” It’s as if signing a crappy parenting agreement is not going to cost even more, in the long run, in your ability to parent as an equal in your children’s lives? Not to mention the fact that by signing that Joint Parenting Agreement and agreeing to less than half of the parenting time, Tom was then liable to pay child support to a woman who made the same, if not more, in income. In addition, he handed over all parenting decision making to a woman who has begun to systematically remove him from the girls’ lives all together.
The Guardian Ad Litem who participated in Tom’s case is not an inexperienced Attorney/GAL. She is part of one of the most well-known law firms in DuPage County, IL. Her lack of mental health and domestic abuse training (and, apparent bias against fathers) cost Tom critical parenting time with his children. This GAL never bothered to investigate both sides and to fully determine who, in fact, was the more fit. This GAL also felt it was her right to strip one parent of his time with his children and thereby significantly alter the bonds that his girls have with him. What happened to due process? Tom was not given good guidance by his own attorney nor made aware of his rights as he worked with the GAL. Tom should have been instructed how to address issues of bias on the part of the GAL, early on in his case, rather than waiting for a court date and until it was too late.
The above story is an example of the tragic increase in family stress and trauma that can result at the hands of a Guardian Ad Litem who does not understand abuse and domestic violence. Custody placement issues are but the beginning of the problems that result from an uninformed GAL. GALs are dealing with families that have been traumatized and broken and, with no mental health training or background, they are ill-equipped to make issues affecting the lives of children and parents.
Here are 3 important things to remember before and after engaging with a GAL:
- Keep in mind, that a GAL has little to no mental health background or training or education in domestic abuse. If you are dealing with a difficult ex or you have a history of abuse in your marriage, you are best to look for a mental health professional to do your custody evaluation.
- Know your rights before you engage with a GAL. Discuss with your attorney exactly what it means to work with a GAL and what to expect in your interactions with them. Also, if you feel any bias on the part of the GAL, let your attorney know immediately.
- Know what kind of documentation, if any, is important to prepare and show the GAL. For example, any documents that show what you do as a parent. For example, doctors’ appointments, school and homework responsibilities, and extracurricular activities that you take your children to and from and your daily parenting routines.
Parents often look for emotional justice in the family court system. Often, victims of abusive behavior simply want someone to listen to them and understand what they have been through at the hands of the abuser. Unfortunately, it is more common for an abuse victim to suffer further trauma at the hands of a Guardian Ad Litem (and family court) as the GALs wade into their case and determine allocation of parenting time based on their “gut”. Because their “gut”, folks, is truly all most of these GALs have to make these huge, life-altering decisions. Prepare well and do your research on what it means to have a GAL come into your divorce case. Visit us at DivorceCoalition.com for more information and to chat with me or one of our professionals about your goals for your family. It is important to strategize and plan before you jump into the family court system. A Certified Divorce Coach is a good place to start.
Colleen Honquest, Divorce Mediator and Certified Divorce Coach
Founder, DivorceMD, LLC.
Colleen is not an attorney nor is the information in this article intended as legal advice. This information is a result of Colleen’s personal experience in a High Conflict Divorce in the family court system and from extensive research in to clients’ rights.