In contested Minnesota divorce cases, a guardian ad litem is a person who is appointed by the court to represent the interests of children in a divorce proceeding. Typically, the guardian ad litem does not perform a custody evaluation or parenting time evaluation. However, he or she will participate in the process, appear at court proceedings, and indicate his or her opinion about the best interests of the children to the court.
Usually guardian ad litems are not attorneys and they are not psychologists or licensed social workers. Many people who go through a divorce where custody is contested believe that the guardian ad litem has too much power. They believe that a guardian ad litem can form an erroneous or flawed opinion based largely upon first impressions. They believe that once a guardian ad litem forms an opinion, they are unlikely to consider credible evidence that contradicts their opinion.
This belief is born out by research. A very good book on this topic is “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me),” written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. One of the conclusions of this book, supported by research, is that once people form an opinion, they tend to overlook contrary evidence. Once an opinion is formed, the person engages in a process of self-justification, mostly looking for evidence to prove they are right. I highly recommend “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)” to people who are going through a divorce. It can give great insight into the thought processes of the individuals involved.
In light of this issue, there are several steps that people who will contest custody should consider taking. The first is to get a child into counseling with a qualified, neutral therapist. By “qualified,” I mean a licensed psychologist or psychaitrist. I do not mean a minister, priest, social worker, or family friend. If the child has a good relationship with his or her psychologist, the psychologist can have input that can either influence or inform the opinion of the guardian ad litem.
Secondly, people should fully understand the temporary relief process, and they should have an attorney who knows how to present a credible and powerful story to the court. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and my experience is that the terms of a Temporary Order that is issued after a temporary relief hearing will have a significant impact on how the case evolves.
One final note: if you are consdering these steps, you need to take them sooner rather than later. If the status quo is favorable to you, delay helps. If the status quo is unfavorable to you, delay hurts.
If you have questions about this, feel free to call me at (952) 270-7700 for a free, initial consultation.