Attorneys and Mental Health Professionals sometimes serve in special capacities in family law matters. In this post you will learn about those roles and the where to find the legal authority for each.
Guardian ad litem
This term means “guardian at law” and is often abbreviated to “GAL.” When a party is incapable of understanding and/or acting in his or her own best interest because the party is an infant or an incompetent person, then, for purposes of the litigation only, the Court may appoint a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem will not be a general guardian or conservator. Specifically, the appointment applies only to the legal action involving the party and terminates at the end of the action. The relevant rule is Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure (C.R.C.P.) 17(c). A GAL may be imposed by the Court.
A parenting coordinator is a neutral third-party. This person listens to each parent and then helps them to make decisions on their own when they have difficulty working together. The relevant law is C.R.S. §14-10-128.1. The goals are to carry out the terms of the parenting plan, help with communication, and offer resources to the parents to improve their parenting skills and reduce their conflict. My goal as a parenting coordinator is to put myself out of a job. The Court can impose a parenting coordinator on parents or they can ask for one.
A Decision-Maker is a neutral third-party. The Decision-Maker listens to each parent, reviews the current court orders, and has binding authority to then resolve the dispute within the scope of their order of appointment. The relevant law is C.R.S. §14-10-128.3. A decision-maker is only appointed with the written consent of both parties, and the appointment lasts for 2 years. Decisions are made in writing, dated, signed, and filed with the Court. This is much quicker than waiting to get issues before the court.
Child and Family Investigator
Also known as a CFI, this person is an attorney or mental health professional appointed by the Court to do a brief, focused investigation and make a written report with recommendations based upon the best interests of the children. The CFI has expertise in performing these kinds of investigations. The CFI interviews the parties and the children and visits each parent’s home. In addition, the CFI and may speak with other people such as step-parents, grandparents, therapists, or teachers. The CFI report comes into evidence automatically by statute. The CFI can be called as a witness. The statute is C.R.S. §14-10-116.5. Their fees are presently capped at $2,750.00.
Child’s Legal Representative
Often abbreviated “CLR”, a Child’s Legal Representative is an attorney who represents the best interests of the child in the domestic relations case. The statute is C.R.S. §14-10-116. Technically, a CLR does not have attorney-client privilege with the child because if, during the course of the representation, the child and the attorney disagreed about what the child’s bests interests were, the attorney would advocate for the child’s best interests and not the child’s stated interests. Often, they coincide. The CLR may not be called as a witness, and advocates for the child by participating in the case as an attorney. The CLR generally visits with each parent to find out what they believe is in the child’s best interest, meets as often as necessary with the child to learn and consider the child’s best interests, and gathers information to effectively advocate for the child’s best interests. A CLR may be imposed by the Court.
Parental Responsibilities Evaluator
This is a mental health professional (or team of mental health professionals) who performs an in-depth evaluation. The statute is C.R.S. §14-10-127. A Parental Responsibilities Evaluation (PRE) is expensive, generally several thousand dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars. The PRE makes recommendations for parenting time, decision-making, or both based upon the best interests of the child. The evaluator may do psychological testing, interview therapists, doctors, teachers, employers, and other third-party witnesses. The person performing a PRE must be highly trained and understand the effects of divorce and remarriage on families, appropriate parenting techniques, child development, psychopathology, clinical assessment techniques, and applicable legal and ethical requirements of the evaluation itself. A written report is issued at least 21 days before the permanent orders hearing. The report must include the methodology used by the evaluator, the data collected, conclusions with specific reference to statutory criteria of the child’s best interests, recommendations for parenting time and decision-making, and any limitations in the evaluation or reservations about the recommendations. The report comes into evidence automatically by statute. A PRE may be imposed by the Court.