Connecticut Family Courts can appoint two types of representatives to protect the legal and/or best interests of minor children in Connecticut Custody Disputes:
An Attorney for a Minor Child (also known as an “AMC”);
A Guardian Ad Litem (also known as a “GAL”)
AMCs and GALs do not represent either “parental” party.
In highly contested custody cases, it is not uncommon for either an AMC or GAL to be appointed by the court. AMCs and GALs charge for their time and it is the parties’ (parents’) responsibility to pay for their fees.
Generally speaking, AMCs are appointed to represent older children as their legal representative before the court, whereas GALs are appointed to represent the best interests of younger children.
An Attorney for the Minor Child (AMC) is a court appointed individual, by either the successful motion of a party or when the family court determines an AMC is necessary to advocate for a child’s legal interests (i.e. file motions and argue motions on behalf of the minor child) AND the best interests of a child. The court considers appointment of an AMC when parties are unable to resolve a parenting or child related dispute.
AMC’s represent the child’s legal interests AND support the child’s best interests;
While GAL’s represents ONLY the child’s best interests (i.e. do not file motions or argue motions on behalf of the child before the court);
Who can be an Attorney for a Minor Child (AMC)?
Only attorneys who have completed the comprehensive training program outlined in the Connecticut Judicial Branch’s Practice Book are eligible to be AMCs. The AMC cannot be the same attorney that is representing either of the parents.
The AMCs responsibility is to represent the legal interests of the child and to support the child’s best interests. The parties (parents) should not expect the AMC to advocate or argue on their behalf. The AMC is empowered to speak in court on all matters pertaining to the interests of the child including: custody, care, support, education and visitation.
The AMC participates fully as a lawyer in the case. As such, the AMC files motions and calls witnesses on behalf of the child in court. By contrast, the AMC cannot testify as a witness like a GAL.
A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a court appointed individual, by either the successful motion of a party or when the family court determines a GAL is necessary to advocate for the best interests of the child. The court considers appointment of a GAL when parties (parents) are unable to resolve a parenting or child related dispute, and they are frequently appointed when the matter is a highly contested custody dispute.
The GAL’s role is different from that of an Attorney for a Minor Child (AMC). GALs ONLY represents the best interests of the child, and may testify as a witness, providing the court with what they believe to the best interests of the child based, while an AMC represents both a child legal interests AND best interests, but does not testify before the court.
Only individuals who have completed the comprehensive training program outlined in the Connecticut Judicial Branch’s Practice Book are eligible to be a GAL. Unlike AMCs, GALs do not have to be attorneys.
A GAL only represents the best interests of the child. The court may require the GAL to perform certain functions.
Some of the functions could be:
The court may also need the GAL to perform other functions to promote the best interests of the child. The court will delineate the role of the GAL in each case, which role will be made an order of the court.
Who pays the GAL?
The parties to the case (parents) pay the fees for the GAL. Each party is required to submit a financial affidavit to the court prior to and/or simultaneously with the appointment of a GAL. The court will consider each party’s financial situation and order how the payment is to be divided between them. In some cases, the parties may qualify for the appointment of a GAL that is paid for by the state, or the GAL fees may be on a sliding scale based on financial resources of the parties.
A custody evaluation (also known as a parenting evaluation) is a report completed by a mental health professional, usually a psychologist or social worker, or similar expert with special training and experience in reviewing high conflict family situations, who evaluates each parent, the minor children, the parties’ family dynamic, and interviews necessary collaterals (including doctors, teachers, coaches, etc.), and issues a report–making specific recommendations to the court regarding the prospective legal and physical custody arrangement for the children, parental visitation schedules and suggests mechanics for a parenting plan.
When do Custody Evaluations occur?
In a contested custody case, a custody evaluation may be conducted:
By Court Order;
By Agreement via Formal Stipulation and approval by the Court;
By Parental Agreement;
In situations where there is a court ordered evaluation, the court will typically specify in its orders a full or issue-focused evaluation:
A full evaluation or assessment is a comprehensive examination of the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child.
An issue-focused evaluation is an examination of the best interest of the child that is limited by court order in either time or scope.
If a private custody evaluation is ordered, the Court will also enter orders as to how the evaluator will be paid.
What is the difference between a Family Services Evaluation and a Private Custody Evaluation?
The Family Services Office is an operational arm of the Connecticut Judicial Branch dedicated to assisting the family court and custody litigants resolve custody, visitation and support conflicts in a timely way by providing, coordinating and scheduling a wide range of processes and third-party services, including Full and Issue-Focus Parenting/Custody Evaluations. When a case is referred to Family Services for an evaluation, a Family Relations Counselor is assigned to perform the evaluation.
In a private custody evaluation, generally, a forensic psychologist performs the custody evaluation. The biggest differences are costs, testing, and time-frame.
Family Services Evaluations are performed at no cost to the parties, whereas the private custody evaluations are paid for by the parties.
Private custody evaluators generally perform the same tasks as a Family Relations Counselors, but private custody evaluators many times additionally perform psychological testing on both the parties and the children.
Due to the additional complexity, detail, and sophistication related to the psychological testing and some of the analyses offered, the reports from Private Custody Evaluators typically take longer to complete than the Family Services reports, and are generally more comprehensive in the final report
How are Custody Evaluators assigned to your case?
The family court judge might assign a custody evaluator to your case. Or, the judge might offer a choice of two or three evaluators and leave it to you and your attorney to agree on a final choice with the other party/parent and their attorney. If a case is referred to Family Services for an evaluation, whether by agreement of the parties or by a judge, a Family Relations Counselor will be assigned to perform the evaluation.
Who pays the cost of Private Custody Evaluation?
The cost of a Private Custody Evaluation is normally established by the evaluator. Most custody evaluation professionals are paid by the hour and require an initial retainer. Parents typically split the charges according to their court order, unless they are able to otherwise agree.
What information does a Private Custody Evaluator consider?
The evaluator will take testimonies, administer psychological tests, observe child–parent observations, and consider additional evaluations by other professionals, etc. The parties may be requested to provide some documents and records to the evaluator, as well as releases for the evaluator to speak with each party’s and the child’s doctors and mental health providers.
The evaluator will submit their final report to each parent, their attorneys, and the court at the same time.
Is the Custody Evaluator’s report binding?
The evaluator’s recommendation is not binding on the court, but as a rule, judges tend to give it a lot of weight—it’s the only neutral information they have about your family situation and dynamics, unless there is also a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) involved in the matter.