In contested child custody matters, it is common for a court to appoint a Guardian ad litem to represent the interests of minor children for that particular lawsuit or proceeding. While Guardians ad litem (or “GAL’s”) are often attorneys, they are less frequently psychologists, social workers, or other individuals with experience representing children’s interests. The GAL’s duty is to speak on behalf of the “best interests” of the child, without necessarily being bound by a child’s expressed preferences, even when those preferences conflict with the perceived “best interests” of the child.
By contrast, a lawyer advocate for a minor child in a custody proceeding, referred to in many jurisdictions as an Attorney for the Minor Child(ren) (or AMC), is just that: a lawyer who is appointed and charged with vigilantly representing and advocating for his or her clients’ interests, including those positions which are expressed to the lawyer in the context of privileged attorney-client communications.
The fact that a GAL – who may, in fact, be a lawyer – does not enjoy the same attorney-client privilege with the minor children he or she represents creates certain significant issues with respect to discovery and document disclosure in the context of custody litigation.
In a recent decision on an issue of first impression, a Connecticut Superior Court determined that an attorney GAL’s entire file (including correspondence, emails, and handwritten notes) be disclosed to the parties over the objection of that GAL, who asserted the protections of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine.
The net effect of that Court’s determination is essentially to permit parents (litigants) who are understandably concerned about the position, progress, and considerable impact of a GAL’s opinion on his or her custody claim, to gain unfettered access to a GAL’s file regardless of that person’s status as an attorney. In custody cases where a GAL may ultimately testify as a witness and opine to a court regarding a minor child’s “best interests,” a preview of that GAL’s work product and interview notes may prove invaluable.
Attorneys armed with both experience and an understanding of applicable case law can best advise our divorce clients regarding custody evaluations, GAL involvement, and overall trial strategy.
Any questions about this posting or confidential inquiries concerning the subject matter may be directed to Attorney H. Daniel Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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