Debate continues over Connecticut family law court reform legislation

Proposed family law court reform in Connecticut has legislators debating over the amount of authority a court-appointed guardian ad litem should maintain.

The Connecticut family law court system is given some judicial authority over cases in which the best interests of the child must be further evaluated. This occurs most commonly when the divorce is a "high-conflict" situation or if there are allegations of abuse or neglect. When a neutral and reliable evaluator is required, the court will often appoint a Guardian Ad Litem ("GAL"). A person can only be a GAL in Connecticut if he or she has completed a specific and comprehensive training program. The GAL will then act as an independent source whose main purpose is to help determine the best interests of the child.

However, in situations when the parties have not sought a GAL through a court petition, the discretion of the judge has become an increasingly contentious issue in Connecticut. Just how much reform and regulation needs to be created over the appointment of GALs is now the hot button topic amongst legislators of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Increased concern over GALs and supervised visitations

When parties in a divorce case involving child custody are unable to come to an agreement on certain child custody and parenting plan issues, a family court judge can intervene and appoint a GAL. In the event that the GAL finds that supervised visitations are required, this type of recommendation can potentially increase the chances for longer family law litigation and increased legal bills. Families have come forward to testify how the current discretion judges have and the authority given to GALs have hindered rather than helped the judicial process in seeking resolution of a child custody or parental rights case.

Proposed legislation calls for decreased governmental interference

In 2014, legislation was passed that included revised billing practices for GALs to use a sliding fee scale as well as code that GALs must adhere to. Items in the code include good faith and competent representation. Although this increased regulation of GALs was passed into law, a new bill was proposed at the beginning of 2015, recommending additional oversight. The bill known as House Bill 5505 or "An Act Concerning Family Court Proceedings," introduces legislation that would place further restrictions on judges in appointing GALs and the role of GALs in custody cases. For example, GALs would no longer have certain quasi-judicial immunities and would not be allowed to testify about a child's medical condition.

Overall, House Bill 5505 is asking for a decreased role in governmental interference by judges and GALs when it comes to high-conflict child custody cases. How this will eventually impact future cases is yet to be seen as the bill is still in motion. The most recent action taken on House Bill 5505 was in March 2015 when a public hearing was held.

Talk to our skilled attorney about your child custody case

If you are concerned about the proposed passing of House Bill 5505 and how it could impact your situation now and in the future, it is important to talk to a knowledgeable child custody lawyer. Reach out to our experienced attorney in Shelton, Connecticut.