Professionals in a Family Law Case

In a family law case in Indiana – many different types of professionals can be involved with your family.  Below, we will attempt to identify the types of professionals, what they do, what you can expect, and how they impact your case.

Guardian ad litem

A guardian ad litem in a custody case is typically a lawyer appointed by the Court that is tasked with gathering facts and representing a child’s best interest to the court.  The child’s best interest is a legal standard whereby the Court determines what custody and visitations, including supervised visitation are necessary to protect the child.

In disputed cases, the court may order a guardian ad litem (GAL), either of its own accord or at the request of someone involved in the case — like a parent, a third-party seeking custody, the child, a custody evaluator or a mental health professional.

The guardian ad litem will typically look for information that could help the judge make an informed custody decision by interviewing the parties, the child, the child’s relatives, teachers, medical professional, etc.  The guardian ad litem will also review medical, school and other reports regarding the child or the parties involved.  The Guardian Ad Litem usually looks and reports on anything that could affect the child’s well-being and the parent-child relationship, such as:

  • The stability of each parent’s home
  • How well parents can cooperate or their ability to learn to cooperate
  • Influence on decision making from other parties involved, such as step-parents, grandparents, etc.
  • Parents’ mental health
  • Parents’ history of crime, violence or substance abuse

You should expect the Guardian Ad Litem to visit your home and observe your living arrangements, the child’s living space, the common areas of the home as well as your interactions with the child.  You should also expect for the Guardian Ad Litem to attend court sessions and potentially testify at any hearing.  In preparing for the home visit, which is usually scheduled in advance:

  • cooperate with the investigation
  • allow the GAL to have access to speak with your child alone
  • never coach your child on what to say
  • allow the GAL to take photos and videos of your home, your child and your interactions

The GAL writes a report based on their findings. It includes a recommendation for a custody arrangement and any other details that could impact the judge’s decision. Only parents, their attorneys and the court can view the report unless the court specifically orders the release of the report to another individual including mental health professionals, de facto caregivers, etc.  While the GAL can take the child’s wishes into account, the GAL must always put the child’s best interest first.

The costs of a Guardian Ad Litem vary widely depending on where you are located and how much of an investigation the court is ordering.

Custody Evaluator

A child custody evaluation, as opposed to the attorney (Guardian Ad Litem), is conducted by a psychologist and is an examination/evaluation to assist the court in determining what would be in the best interest of the child by meeting with the parents and other family members, child, and watching the interaction between them.  While similar to an investigation by a Guardian Ad Litem, the Custody Evaluation will incorporate mental health testing of the parents and on rare occasions the child.  As with the Guardian Ad Litem, Psychologists may gather facts through access to documentation from schools, health care providers, childcare providers, agencies, and other institutions. They may also make contact with members of your extended family, friends, and acquaintances.  Additionally, Psychologists gather data through psychological testing, clinical interviews, and behavioral observations.

The American Psychological Association has developed guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings to assist and guide the psychologists in their evaluations. However, there is no mandatory requirements that these guidelines be followed.  A parent and/or attorney should consult with the custody evaluator to determine the evaluator’s techniques and procedures before assuming that they follow these guidelines.

According to the guidelines, the evaluator should focus on factors that pertain specifically to the psychological best interests of the child.  In order to determine what would be in the psychological best interests of the child, evaluators will often focus on factors such as family dynamics and interactions, cultural and environmental variables, challenges and aptitudes for all parties, and the child’s educational, physical, and psychological needs.  Both parties should be evaluated to prevent bias.

In preparing for the custody evaluation:

  • Review the American Psychological Association Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluation in Family Law Proceedings.
  • Focus on the child and how things affect the child.
  • Do not place blame on the other parent.
  • Remain calm and collected as you communicate with the evaluator.
  • Do not try to trick or mislead the evaluator.
  • Act the way you normally do when you are in your evaluation and do not fake responses or behaviors.

The costs of a custody evaluation are usually higher than a Guardian Ad Litem due to the mental health component and run between $7,500.00 to $15,000.00.

Parenting Coordinators

Indiana has adopted specific guidelines for Parenting Coordinators pursuant to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines Section V.  The parenting coordinator is an individual appointed by the Court normally in high-conflict situations to help parents re-direct their focus to their child and help make decisions that are in the best interest of the child.  The parenting coordinator is usually an attorney or mental health professional who is a registered domestic relations mediator and has additional training in high conflict resolution.

The court’s appointment will include a written order that outlines the parenting coordinator’s duties, authority, and responsibilities.  The court order will also specify an initial term of the parenting coordinator’s appointment (usually 1-2 years), the percentage of fees each party will pay, procedures to objecting to a parenting coordinator’s recommendations and issues to be addressed.  An example of the issues a parenting coordinator can address are:  negotiate resolutions of disputes regarding parenting time, holiday and vacation schedules, transportation, method of communication, etc.

A parenting coordinator cannot serve as a custody evaluator, recommend a change in custody, address financial matters or child support.

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement even with the help of the parenting coordinator, the parenting coordinator will write a report outlining the disagreement and the parenting coordinator’s recommendations for resolution.  If one party does not object within the timeframe determined by the court’s order, the recommendations become binding upon the parties.

Parenting Time Supervisors

When a parent’s history includes crime, family abuse or neglect, the courts often require their interactions with the child to happen during supervised parenting time at a court-certified agency or by another adult agreeable to the Court. It is used to keep the child safe, while supporting the parent–child relationship. It also guarantees the custodial parent knows where the child is during visits.

Situations where supervised visitation may be ordered, include:

  • There has been physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the child by a parent
  • There has been physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of one parent by the other parent
  • A parent has a substance abuse problem
  • A parent has an uncontrolled mental illness that poses harm to the child
  • There is risk of kidnapping or abduction by one of the parents
  • A parent has neglected the child
  • A parent has been absent from the child’s life and wants to start a relationship with the child
  • There have been any potentially dangerous family situations

While many times the parenting time supervisor is a social worker or a has attained a bachelor’s degree in social work, they do not provide any type of counseling during the visit.  The roll of the parenting time supervisor is to ensure the safety of the child, to observe and report interactions between the supervised parent and the child.  Parenting Time supervisors, like all professionals are subject to subpoena and testifying in Court.

This post is intended to provide general information on the professionals that could potentially be involved in your family law case.  If you need assistance with a family law matter please contact the experienced attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC at (317) 526-4630 or email us at info@banksbrower.com for an initial consultation to determine how we can help.