Child Custody Cases - Guardian Ad Litem

Court Guardian Protects Child's Interests During Parents' Divorce
by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico

Divorce is a financial disaster. Contributing mightily are the enormous legal fees and expenses. One solution: Pass a law that requires all children to have a lawyer when their parents divorce. Then, if enough money is left, the parents can hire their own lawyers.

Actually, divorce law in New Mexico already allows for the children to have a lawyer--of sorts. The court can appoint a lawyer, called a "guardian ad litem." The guardian wears several hats. He or she is the children's lawyer, an expert witness and a "friend" of the court. Unfortunately, courts don't often appoint guardians in divorce cases. It's hard enough for divorcing people to pay their own two lawyers. However, in case I've seen where a guardian was involved the results were very good.

In a recent case the father was in the military and was transferred to another state. He had a 14-year-old son who lived with him, but who also spent much time with his mother. The mother did not want the son to leave New Mexico. The child had reservations about moving--as teens often do.

The traditional way for parents to deal with such a case is for each to hire a lawyer, who, in turn, hire a psychologist to evaluate which parent is best. After talking with the parents, it seemed clear to me that they were both very good parents. They loved their son, and he loved them. So instead of appointing a psychologist, who would have subjected both parents and son to unnecessary psychological tests for up to $3,000, I appointed a guardian.

The child's lawyer was able to keep a neutral and objective stance between the parents. With his help, the parents were able to reach an agreement that truly was based upon their son's needs. The guardian's fees were $750. As a bonus, instead of each parent incurring legal fees of $3,000 or more, each parent's lawyer fees was less than $1,000. A case that could easily have cost $12,000 or more, cost $2,500.

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