Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-494

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING GUARDIANS AD LITEM AND ATTORNEYS FOR MINOR CHILDREN IN FAMILY RELATIONS MATTERS.

Vote Date:

4/1/2014

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/31/2014

File No.:

619

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL: The Task Force to Study Legal disputes Involving the Care & Custody of Minor Children issued their final report on Feb. 1, 2014. This bill addresses some of the recommendations of the task force. To clarify court orders involving the appointment of counsel or a guardian ad litem for a minor child; to provide interested third parties with standing to remove a court-appointed counsel or GAL; to enact provisions prohibiting GAL fees being paid from a college fund, and establishing a sliding scale for such payments; and to require the Judicial Branch to develop a publication about the roles and responsibilities of a counsel or GAL to a minor child in a family relations matter.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE: In sections 1(a) and 4 to 7, inclusive, technical changes were made for conciseness, clarity and statutory consistency.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

CT Judicial Branch, Judge Patrick L. Carroll III: Judge Carroll notes that each year, many thousands of cases go through the cases without difficulty. When this is not the case, a GAL is required to protect the child from traumatic court procedures. Most GALs and judges act in the child's best interest at all times. Therefore, the Judicial branch takes issue with Section 4, which allows parties to file a motion seeking removal of the GAL without cause, and which could potentially be used as a delaying tactic by disgruntled parents. Section 5(b), prohibiting GAL fees from being paid from a child's college savings account, is well-intended but should include a provision that the account must have been created prior to the filing of the action in order to benefit from that protection.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Representative Michael L. Molgano, 144th Assembly District: Representative Molgano supports SB 494, especially the clauses giving parents the right to file to remove GALs, the provision for selection of a GAL by the parties involved, and the development of a publication outlining important information on parents' and children's rights in the family court system.

Beacon Behavioral Services, Elizabeth S. Thayer: Beacon supports SB 494 with the modifications suggested by the Connecticut Bar Association Family Law Section and the General Assembly's Task Force. Most divorcing couples, she says, are not contentious enough to reach the divorce courts. There are other conflict resolution programs, such as the Families in Transition and the Early Intervention Program. Thayer recommends that the committee consider providing more funding to such programs. The families that do end up in courts have probably exhausted all other options, and in such cases a GAL is necessary to protect the child from fallout from their parents' conflict. GALs, she says, have valuable experience and should not have to waste time defending themselves against unwarranted accusations.

Bridget A. Garrity: Garrity, a longtime practitioner of family law and GAL/AMC, asks that the Committee take the recommendations of the Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children into account. While she is saddened by the stories shared by testifiers at the Task Force hearing, she maintains that these do not give an accurate picture of the family law system in CT, and most GALs and AMCs have the child's best interest at heart over any financial concerns. She endorses the recommendations of the Task Force and Judiciary Department, and in particular recommends increased funding for Family Services and an organized mentoring program for GALs/AMCs.

Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, Robert D. Zaslow: As a family lawyer and GAL/AMC in addition to a representative of the Family Law Section, Zaslow requests that the Committee revise SB 494 to address the following issues. Per section 1(a), parents must wait up to two weeks after the initial court date to have a GAL/AMC selected; 1(c) creates the possibility of an additional delay. There should be exceptions for emergency and ex parte circumstances. Zaslow further recommends that subsection (c) be clarified and modified to reflect families' unique situations instead of prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach. In Section 4, the Section believes that a parent's motion to remove a GAL should only be granted for cause, to ensure that such motion is not used as a weapon to exact favorable reports, as GALs must necessarily disagree with at least one parent. Zaslow recommends high standards for removal, and that if a motion is denied the parent be barred from further motions unless they demonstrate due cause. In Section 5, Zaslow asks that subsection (a) be amended so GAL fees reflect the current financial situation of the family, as they doubt the state's ability to cover the fees of every child that has ever received HUSKY benefits. In subsection (b), Zaslow points out the possibility of parents duplicitously funneling money for litigation into a "college" account. Subsection (c), Zaslow claims, appears to be in conflict with Section 1 where it seems to indicate that the fees of a GAL can be retroactively amended. He asks that the language be amended to give the GAL at the outset what his or her fees will be. Zaslow has attached a revised version of SB 494 with the recommended changes.

Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, Melissa E. Osborne: As a divorced parent, stepparent, attorney and GAL, Osborne has experience on all sides of this issue. She highlights several areas for improvement upon what is a "good first step:" Firstly, the 2-step appointment process prescribed in Section 1 takes too long in an emotionally traumatic situation. Section 3 permits 3rd-party intervention for cases about child support to be heard in GA court, which Osborne believes is inappropriate for GA courts. Additionally, it permits intervention by a 3rd party not just in cases that concern the children of both parties, but when either party has a minor child, which Osborne also finds inappropriate. Finally, she recommends that the state allocate more funding to the Judiciary, family relations officers, and alternative dispute resolution programs.

Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund: CWEALF, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to empowering women in their personal and professional lives, serves mostly low-income mothers. They suggest that the Committee uphold the Task Force's recommendation not to enact a presumption of shared custody between parents. Additionally, CWEALF endorses the bill's provision requiring the court to outline for parents the nature of a GAL's work and a schedule for review of that work, which may be particularly helpful for parties who are unfamiliar with the legal system. They also support the proposal to use a sliding scale for GAL fees. In regards to the GAL selection process, they propose that the Committee consider requiring the court to provide a list of qualifications for each GAL candidate, establishing a system for rotating the distribution of names from the list of GALs, and creating a system that would give less experienced GALs access to training.

David Kelman: Kelman supports SB 494. A divorced father of two, he faced issues when a GAL was assigned to his family's case without explanation from him. He recalls losing a motion for counseling with his children when the GAL failed to engage the services of a qualified mental health professional to gauge Kelman's health. Though he will not benefit from reform, he wishes that other parents will avoid similar losses.

Denise Guerrero: Guerrero, a divorced mother of 3 and survivor of domestic violence, thinks SB 494 is a “move in the right direction” but does not go far enough in addressing court non-transparency, corrupt GALs, or clarifying who constitutes a child of sufficient age to testify. Her own children, who she believes were equipped to testify at the respective ages of 14, 19, and 22, have been denied the opportunity to do so. Guerrero also reports that her son's GAL ignored evidence that he faced violence from his father and ignored her own concerns.

Derek Grant: Grant, a parent and grandparent, believes SB 494 is a necessary start on family court reform but can be improved. He recommends that section 5(b) be amended to include IRA and 401 accounts under protected accounts, and that the word “reasonable” be applied to all mentions of “fees.” He also recommends that Section 6 be elaborated to address prohibited acts by GALs and to enumerate their responsibilities—for instance, providing written reports to any party likely to be impacted by the GAL's decisions.

Douglas Morrow: Morrow supports SB 494 as a first step towards reform of the family courts. Morrow appeals to due process in his insistence upon reform, saying that the privacy of the parent-child relationship can only be breached in the case of abuse or neglect. He further believes that oversight, fee caps, and audits should be implemented to protect families from unscrupulous GALs; and that retirement accounts and family homes, as well as college savings accounts, should be exempt from use for GAL fees. Finally, he recalls his own experiences, in which a GAL created unnecessary conflict in his own divorce, and in which he was forced to pay a GAL several hundred dollars just for the privilege of giving his children a birthday gift.

Elizabeth A. Richter: Richter supports SB 494, as it provides parties with standing to challenge bad GALs/AMCs, protects children's assets from exploitation by them, and requires the production of a booklet explaining the system. She believes the following is still required: 1) that GALs and AMCs only be appointed given a DCF determination of abuse or neglect; 2) that there be caps on GAL fees, and that parents be allowed to turn down certain services if they cannot afford the associated fees; 3) that guidelines be inserted into Section 4 requiring removal of the GAL if they fail to meet with the child, lie about facts, hide evidence, fail to investigate charges of abuse or neglect, demonstrate bias towards one party, provide legal advice to either party, or act outside their role as defined by the judge; 4) that the bill establish a tracking system that would require the judicial branch to note when certain GALs are assigned to and removed from cases; 5) that an evaluation system be implemented for parties to give feedback to the Judiciary on their GALs; 6) that one member of the public and one non-lawyer participate in the creation of the publication prescribed in Section 6; and 7) that GALs and AMCs be required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Titles II and III, and to provide notice of their intention to comply to each party at the beginning of the case.

Janessa Doe: Doe recommends several changes to SB 494. She recommends that Section 1(2) allot GALS three months to conduct their investigations, and remove the "for good cause" loophole." She believes the language of Section 1(4) is good but should be more specific, and designate a cap on the amount a GAL can charge both hourly and by case. In Section 1(5), she recommends that the language require a non-profit organization such as the Focus on Kids program to carry out the proposed periodic reviews on GAL's work. She recommends the language of Section 3 be changed to remove the consideration given to wishes of the child, since this would open up the child to interference. Section 4, in her view, needs clarification and should require that the judge presiding over the case not review motions to remove the GAL if there are concerns about the judge-GAL relationship.

Jennifer Verraneault: A member of the Task Force to Study the Care and Custody of Minor Children in Legal Disputes, Verraneault supports this bill with the amended language presented by Representative Gonzalez and Senator Fasano. While the guardian ad litem system may have worked at its implementation twenty years ago, the outcry shows that it's time for reform. She has attached a list of documented grievances in family court cases which she believes are unacceptable.

Jerry Mastrangelo: Mastrangelo supports SB 494 with amended language. He believes GALs should be appointed by a judge, that they should be given specific tasks to complete by the judge, and that their fees should be capped. He has attached a list of dozens of instances of what he feels were exploitation and abuse by the GAL appointed to his children.

Joan Zanard: A GAL and recovery support specialist, Zanard recommends several recommendations to SB 494. She advocated reversing sections 1(a) and 1(b), thus allowing parents a shot at choosing a GAL before the judge must appoint one. She also recommends limiting a GAL's fees with time limits and fee caps. She recommends that the proposed periodic court reviews be carried out by a neutral nonprofit every 3 months, and that "sufficient age" be clarified to take into account a child's emotional maturity, which may have been stunted by divorce-related trauma. She recommends that Sec. 3 be clarified to limit who can qualify as an "interested 3rd party." She asks that Sec. 4 be elaborated to state that unlimited motions to remove a GAL can be filed, and that these motions must stay on file even if they are denied; and furthermore, that a GAL registry be created to track motions and reasons for removal. She recommends that Section 5 protect families' estates along with college savings accounts. She has attached court transcripts detailing her personal situation and her husband's troubles with the family court system.

Kaylah Culp: Culp supports SB 494 but has concerns with Section 4, as she believes that allowing a parent to seek removal of a court-appointed GAL could lead to children losing their voice in the proceedings. She has divorced parents and had a GAL in her family's case, and believes that if her late father had had the chance to remove their GAL, he would have done so to avoid an outcome that was unfavorable to him.

Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut, Inc., Raphael L. Podolsky: Podolsky supports SB 494 with amended language. The Center believes the charges of corruption leveled ageist the family courts are incorrect, though it could be improved. In SB 494, they believe that a standard for a motion to remove a GAL should be established, that parties be able to ask the court to appoint a GAL, and that the court should be able to order state payment for a GAL in the event of indigent parents.

Maureen M. Martowska: Martowska, a grandmother who also has legal experience, supports SB 494 with some amended language. She recommends the language include a cap on GAL fees, implement a GAL code of ethics, create an independent avenue for litigants to air grievances with their GALs, and appointment of GALs who have medical expertise. Specifically, she believes Section 1(c) 1 and 2 should specify the nature of a GAL's task and a duration limit for their work. Section 4 should require that an independent panel review motions to remove GALs, rather than the presiding judge. In Section 5, “may” should be changed to “shall,” and 401s and IRA accounts should be protected as well as college funds. The publication prescribed in Section 6, along with information on the roles of a GAL/AMC, should include a “Parent's Bill of Rights.” Finally, she references Troxel v. Granville (2000), which announces that the state shall not insert itself into parenting as long as a parent “adequately cares for his children.” Martowska has attached information on the financial burdens faced by families in the family courts, as well as her written testimony before the Task Force on January 9th.

Michael S. Martowska: Mr. Martowska supports SB 494 but notes that this support is “looking at the glass as 10% full rather than 90% empty”--it does not go far enough, in his view, to address the root causes of the issues faced by litigants in the family courts. He shares the story of his grandchildrens' two GALs, one of whom was fair and effective and one who dragged out court proceedings in disregard for the best interests of the child; he notes that had SB 494 been in effect then, it would not have improved the situation. He recommends that at the very least the language require a cap on GAL fees.

Michael W. Evans: Evans supports SB 494 as a “start” but believes that it is lacking in several ways. In his view, it should require the Office of the Public Defender to post a list of GALs who will work for a $500 retainer and $50/hour, which is the state contractor rate for indigent families. It should contain a Code of Ethics for GALs and an enforcement sanction, establish independent oversight over GALs, clearly define a GAL's responsibilities, clarify the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys to address family-court concerns, protect IRAs as it does 529 plans, and cap GAL/AMC fees.

Michelle Tolmoff: Tolmoff works with a family support group for divorced parents and is a trained GAL. She supports SB 494 with some revisions. She recommends that the five possible GALs be rotated and evenly distributed among all qualified GALs, and that a database be maintained with every GAL's hourly fee, standard charges, retainer, average overall fees collected, average duration of case, and parent feedback. She further recommends that GAL fees be capped, that GALs be required to complete continuing education bi-annually for license renewal, and that retirement accounts should be protected along with college savings accounts.

New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Inc., Aaron P. Wenzloff: Wenzloff supports SB 494 but offers a few suggestions for its improvement. In Section 4, he believes that parents should have a right to motion to remove a GAL, but that such a motion must be contingent upon a clear legal standard so that a parent cannot simply file a motion to remove to retaliate for an unfavorable decision. In Section 1, Wenzloff worries that parents may not be informed enough to choose a GAL from a five-person list; instead, he recommends that the court should appoint the GAL if the parties cannot agree. In Section 1, he recommends requiring that parties submit financial affidavits prior to the court's order regarding GAL fees; and in section 5 he recommends that the language be clarified to clearly state that state payment may always be ordered if the parents are indigent, even if the child is not currently on HUSKY benefits.

Robert A. Horwitz: Horwitz, a clinical psychologist and member of last year's Task Force, supports SB 494 as it clarifies the roles and responsibilities of GALs/AMCs, as well as the process for appointing and removing them. However, the Committee should review the other recommendations of the Task Force and seek to write them into law.

Sharon Wicks Dornfeld: Dornfeld, an attorney and GAL for 25 years as well as a co-chair of the Task Force, supports this bill with some recommendations. She observes that in high-conflict cases, the question of custody often cannot be left to the parents--in which case a GAL/AMC is appointed. If the parents are indigent, the state will cover the GAL's fees, and many GALs also charge very low fees. SB 494 incorporates the Task Force recommendations that the procedures governing the terms, rate, retainer, and reports for a GAL be standardized. While Dornfeld believes that parents should be able to raise complaints about GALs, she also notes that in every case one parent will be unsatisfied with the GAL's recommendations, and so recommends a revision to limit the frequency of filing motions to remove. She believes that "college savings accounts" should be limited to 529, UTMA, and UGMA accounts. There are also several provisions which did not gain the support of the majority of the Task force. Section 1, which allows the court to provide a list of 5 AMCs/GALs to choose from if they have no one in mind, but Dornfeld fears this could lead to parents simply choosing a name at random, and possibly ending up with a GAL without expertise. Section 5(c) denies GALs their right to be compensated for their services and not have their fees retroactively lowered.

Sue A. Cousineau: Sue Cousineau: A licensed attorney since 1987, a GAL, and the co-chair of the Task Force, Cousineau is glad to see some of their recommendations in this bill. She points out that GALs are there to protect children from their parents' conflict. She asks that the Judiciary Committee consider several revisions to the bill addressing emergency situations and areas of ambiguity. The act, she believes, should include a provision allowing for the immediate appointment of a GAL in situations such as a restraining order or ex parte applications. In Section 1 (c), the word "date" should be replaced with "event." If a motion to remove a GAL is denied, any subsequent motions should be accompanied by a Motion to Show Cause. Section 5 should further define "college savings account" so that it only applies to accounts existing and funded at the time of filing. Finally, the sliding scale provisions of Section 5(c) should either be contained in section 1(c)(4) or should refer to said section, providing that the hourly rate is determined in accordance with the timeframes set forth in that section.

The Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut - John M. Clapp: The SBC supports SB 494, as it begins the process of needed reform for the family court system. However, they offer a few simple amendments to consider: first, that the court officials repeatedly ask the litigants which parent is more likely to provide their child with "frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact" with the other parent, and that GALs should by default promote active involvement by both parents. They also request that the courts begin a dialogue with the SPC, in an effort to implement reform without legislation.

Jeannine M. Talbot: Talbot, a practicing attorney since 1993 and a Certified Mediator who is frequently appointed to serve as a guardian ad litem (GAL) and attorney for a minor child (AMC), supports the recommendations of the Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children, and the recommendations supported by the Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association. However, she does not support Section 1(b) as it does not provide for immediate appointment of counsel or a GAL in restraining orders or ex-parte application situations, where children may especially need an advocate. She does not support Section 4, which allows litigants to remove an unlimited number of GALs, and potentially to remove any GAL who disagrees with them. Finally, she does not support Section 5, which makes state rates mandatory when the child has received HUSKY benefits, prohibits the child's savings account being used for GAL fees, which allows GAL fees to be changed without regard for the litigant's resources. Talbot says that these provisions shortchange the GAL, many of whom already charge reduced rates and accept pro bono projects, and all of whom must make a living.

Adam J. Teller: Teller expresses “general support” for SB 494, as it would address problems in the current procedures for appointment and payment of GALs and AMCs. However, he disagrees with several of the bill's provisions. Teller is an infrequent GAL, currently appointed to only one case, and has been serving that case on reduced rates. Teller believes that the current appointment and payment procedures for GALs are a less pressing problem than lack of resources and the number and complexity of the cases themselves. He rejects the idea that GALs or judges are abusive or under-supervised, and puts the onus of these complaints on litigants who do not understand legal literature. Although he does believe that a clearer code of conduct for GALs would be helpful, he believes that SB 494 does not address the most serious issues facing family courts. He asks that the Committee consider the following: 1) that there are many instances where a GAL is needed immediately, and the bill's mandate for court-appointed GALs creates an incentive for parties to request appointment as a tactic to delay proceedings; 2) that Section 4 should require that a movant pay for a GAL's time to respond to an unsuccessful removal motion, to deter frivolous motions; 3) that the language requiring that the GAL/AMC be paid at state rates if the child has ever received state care to be amended to reflect the parents' current ability to pay; 4) that the term “college savings account” should be more clearly defined to prevent parties from manipulating resources to prevent fair payments; and 5) that sections 5(c) and (d) be clarified to eliminate the possibility of after-the-fact reduction of fees.

Amy Klein: As an attorney, AMC, and GAL, Klein generally agrees with SB 494 but takes issue to specific clauses. She says there should be an exception to Sec 1(b) allowing for immediate appointment of an AMC or GAL in cases of ex parte applications or restraining orders. She believes that motions seeking the removal of an AMC/GAL should be specific and of limited frequency. She believes that section 5(a) is overly broad in prescribing that the AMC/GAL shall be compensated at state rates if the child has ever received state aid, and that the clause should instead address the parties' current financial situation. She is concerned about fair compensation of GALs, and believes that if there is to be a fee reduction, it should apply to the parties' private counsel as well as to the GAL.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Andrea Cota Eigner: Eigner opposes SB 494, recommending instead the increased oversight of GALs contained in HBs 5209 and 5138. Eigner says she has been the victim of corruption in the family courts since 2008, and has recently lost custody of her son, an act she believes is retaliation by a judge and GAL who have been involved in her case. Eigner reports being threatened and lied to by said GAL, and calls for GALs to be removed and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts to be shut down. She has attached several financial documents documenting the transactions between her and the GAL, as well as a transcript of court proceedings before Middletown's Superior Court on August 12, 2013.

Daniel M. Lynch: Lynch, a divorced father, opposes SB 494, believing it represents a step backward for divorced families. He believes that any bill addressing child custody matters should include a legal presumption of shared custody, absent evidence of abuse or neglect. Secondly, he believes that any bill should include the words “shall” and “must” in order to give the bill mandatory force; thirdly; he claims that actors in the family court system intentionally fuel conflict to perpetuate litigation and collect more fees, and that the Statewide Grievance Committee and Judicial Review Council has failed to address such abuse. Lynch asks that the judiciary form an independent panel to investigate corruption in the family court system, as such complaints are not a rare occurrence.

Dominic Bonito: Bonito opposes SB 494.

Hector Morera: Morera has testified about issues with family courts several times in 2014, and is disappointed that SB 494 does not address those issues. He believes assigning a GAL without evidence of abuse or neglect is inappropriate and a violation of due process. He does not believe that the process allowing litigants to choose from 5 preselected GAL options is sufficient protection against collusion, and recommends that a lottery system be implemented instead. He recommends that Section 1(c) should specify that the initial scope of a GAL's work includes home visits, meetings with the child, contacting the child's teachers and doctors, and contacting relevant persons, such as employers or physicians, to ascertain parents' ability to perform their roles. In addition, this subsection should provide guidance on acceptable reasons to extend a GAL appointment, cap a GAL's fees, and limit their initial work hours to 40 hours. There should be established a Code of Conduct for GALs and an independent entity to oversee them. The GALs he had been involved with, he claims, have violated the General Statutes relating to perjury, coercion, and conspiracy (53a-156, 53a-192, and 53a-51). Morera has attached his testimony from the aforementioned previous hearings.

Lisa M. Vincent, Esq.: Vincent opposes this bill. As a child protection attorney and sometimes GAL, Vincent has seen "nothing but problems" with the GAL system, including exorbitant fees, deprivation of due process, and collusion between officials. She rejects SB 494 because of its language granting third parties access to children. She further believes that it does not go far enough to address the problems in the GAL system, or to protect the families' financial interests.

Michael Nowacki: Nowacki opposes SB 494, calling it “An Act to Perpetuate Stranger Danger in the Family Courts.” He believes that it endorses a continuation of income-based discrimination without addressing the real concerns of the parents who are being victimized by GALs and AMCs. He details his own story, in which an AMC filed an emergency ex parte order for custody modification without claims or abuse or neglect and without the knowledge of his children. Nowacki has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars combating this order. He has attached the grievance complaint from that incident as well as family court bills and a letter to the Task Force.

Pamela Eisenlohr: Eisenlohr opposes SB 494, calling it "excessively passive," and asserting that it is not in the best interests of children. Specifically, she recommends that Section 1 contain language defining the situations in which a GAL may be appointed; that fee caps, continuing education, and oversight for GALs be implemented; that the Committee study other states, such as Virginia, which have implemented such standards; that a registry be created for all GALs to inform families; that an independent agency should be established to oversee GALs/AMCs; that the educational standards for GALs should be raised; and that the language allowing third parties to enter these cases be removed. She has attached her testimony from the January 9th hearing, as well as literature on implementing standards for GALs.

Peter and Elleen Nicita: The Nicitas write on behalf of their grandchildren, who they have lost contact with following a difficult family court case. The Nicitas have attempted to communicate with the GAL, believing that they possess a valuable perspective, but their efforts have been ignored. SB 494, in their view, does not go far enough to address concerns about such behavior from GALs.

Peter Nicita: Nicita is disappointed that SB 494 does not mention the topic of parental alienation; that it does not address noncompliance of court orders by GALs; that it does not cap GAL fees; that it does not protect a family's assets; that it does not require expedited processes when a parenting plan is abandoned by one party; and that it allows children to request their own attorney. These issues were all at play in his own case and SB 494 would not have helped him in its current form.

The Children's LAW Center of Connecticut: Although the Center supports SB 494 in part, they are concerned that it would distract from the needs of the child. They believe that new legislation regarding GALs should focus on training and educating GALs rather than on creating more administrative requirements. Accordingly, they support Section 6, which requires that parents be informed about the responsibilities of a GAL, and section 1(c) which requires that the court define the scope of a GAL's role. However, they disagree with section 1(b), as the process set forth therein does not account for emergency situations, parents who do not know one GAL from another, potential conflict between parents, and vague effectuation processes. They take issue with Section 4, as it does not include a "for cause" limitation for motions to remove a GAL, it will overwhelm the Family Relations office, and does not provide for how a GAL's time defending themselves against inevitable requests for removal will be compensated. Private GALs practice in the private sector and their fees ought not be determined by a court. Finally, the standard set forth in Section 5(a) is too broad, not taking into account parents who are in disproportionate financial situations or the current financial situation.

The Connecticut Coalition for Family Court Reform: This testimony is a petition to reform CT's "broken and corrupt" family court GAL system. On behalf of parents, grandparents, children of divorce, business leaders, mental health professionals, concerned citizens, and progressive attorneys, the Coalition requests meaningful legislation to reform the current abusive GAL system. SB 494 does not go far enough, in their opinion, to reform the system and offer families protection.

TESTIMONIES WITHOUT BEARING ON SB 494

Angela Hickmann: Personal story. Hickmann and her children are survivors of domestic violence. Since she filed for divorce in 2007, her ex-husband, a convicted abuser, has been seeking to take away Hickmann's custody, forcing Hickmann to pay $145,000 in fees to attorneys and psychologists, as well as unpaid days off work. She urges the committee to create GAL oversight to prevent such abuse.

Bill Mulready: Mulready does not specifically address SB 494. He believes that his children have been removed due to discrimination illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Anonymous 4-16-14: Personal story:

Charles Schramm: A child of divorce and now a divorced father, Schramm believes that the GALs and family courts are unfairly biased against fathers.

Cheryl Martone: Martone, on behalf of concerned parents and opponents of judicial abuse, recommends that the Judiciary Committee look at proposed bills 5209 and 5138, which prescribe increased oversight on GALs and AMCs. Martone accuses a specific GAL of corruption in the case of her eighteen-year-old son. Martone calls the AFCC a “business” in which GALs and judges make money by writing false reports and misrepresenting families who simply want an amicable divorce.

Colleen and Scott Buden: No testimony bearing on HB 494. Attached are the following: 1) a court transcript in which presumably the GAL describes their home visits to two parents; 2) a letter regarding a temporary pistol permit; 3) a Department of Homeland Security/FEMA Standard Flood Hazard Determination.

Colleen Kerwick: Personal story: Kerwick is an attorney at law in the State of New York and the mother of a young son. She recounts the negative experiences she has had with GALs, most notably losing her son to a falsified Amber Alert because she "may flee" when she had no intention of doing so. She accuses the GALs involved in her case of manufacturing conflict in order to collect more fees. She has attached a provisional audit of the accused GALs and documentation of her ex-husband's abusive behavior.

Deborah Jerolman: Jerolman recommends reform of the GAL system, claiming that they do not in reality foster conflict resolution. In their place, she advocates for increased counseling and education for divorcing couples.

Donna Marsico: A grandparent to children who have been represented by GALs in her son's divorce, Marsico wishes to express frustration with the CT family courts. After her son's divorce in 2001, Marsico and her family enjoyed shared custody until parental alienation led to litigation in 2011. The court-appointed GAL has ignored her family's pleas for visitation and the recommendation of the children's therapist, resulting in her not seeing her grandchildren for years on end. She recommends that GAL duties should be clearly conscribed by law, their fees capped, and their accountability to court orders increase.

Elisa Epstein: Personal story: Epstein is a mother of three with no abuse history who has been kept from her children for 2 years, apparently due to collusion between her children's GAL and her ex-husband's attorney. Epstein believes that shared custody should be standard absent evidence of abuse, and that GALs, who receive less special training than hairdressers, should never be allowed to make unilateral custody decisions. Furthermore, she believes that GALs should be unpaid, voluntary positions as is the case in other states, taking away the motive to perpetuate litigation.

Fiana Alloura: Personal story: Alloura is the mother of two and the non-custodial stepmother of one boy, and does not understand why she and her husband are good enough parents to take care of their two sons, but not good enough to be permitted even a birthday phone call to her stepson, and feels that her husband was unfairly labeled a “high-conflict” litigant in court. She wants to see more transparency, oversight, and efficiency in the family court system.

Jacob Schmitt: Personal story: Schmitt, age 16 or 17, was abused by his father throughout his childhood, and this abuse was documented by DCF. After his parents divorced in 2003, they shared custody of Schmitt and his siblings. Their father abused them during his visitations, once resulting in Schmitt needing stitches. Schmitt told the GAL assigned to his case about the abuse and that he felt unsafe with his father; the GAL, however, reported to the judge that there was never any abuse, leading to the father gaining custody and continued abuse. Schmitt only escaped to his mother's custody because his therapist advocated on his behalf to the judge. Schmitt believes that more oversight and fewer monetary incentives for GALs would help other families avoid the trauma that he underwent.

Jean-Pierre Bolat: Personal story: A divorced father who is deep in debt due to the divorce, Bolat emphasizes the difficulty of parents who must take protracted time off work to attend to family court matters. He recommends oversight to prevent the family courts from taking advantage of families' naiveté or ignorance of the legal system; this is especially important as parents are forced to pay for legal services.

Jennifer Tow: Personal story: Tow does not see the GALs as the only problem with CT family courts. Tow divorced from husband amicably, but several years later her ex-husband sued in order to terminate his child-support requirements, and they went to court. The GAL, in Tow's view, was fair, but his testimony was disregarded due to what Tow sees as biases against her low income and choice to home-school. All the expenses of a sick son and a daughter in college have fallen on Tow as the courts have allowed her ex to withdraw support, and her financial situation is dire.

Jeryl Gray: Personal story: Gray reports that here mother was abducted by her son, and that the CT family courts have unlawfully and against her mother's will given that son legal guardianship over her, in order to rob her mother of her assets. She recommends that the corrupt family court system be dismantled entirely and folded into the regular court system. She has attached several documents, including notes from her mother, documenting these experiences, and literature about corruption in the divorce courts and elder abuse.

Jessica Neiderwerfer: Personal story: Niederwerfer's court case has been drawn out more than she thinks necessary, and the GAL assigned to her daughter's case has made accusations she feels are unfounded; yet she is afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation.

Jim Kreitler: Personal story: Kreitler has stopped seeing his two children, despite having partial custody, due to what he sees as manipulation by their mother. The court will not enforce their custody agreement. He recommends that the current adversarial format for divorce proceedings be changed to something like mandatory mediative therapy.

John DiBiase Jr.: Personal story: DeBiase feels he has been discriminated against by the officials of the family courts due to his disability, leading to the loss of custody of his son. He supports more oversight and stronger language in SB 494.

Karen DeVille: Personal story: Deville feels that the GAL assigned to her children misrepresented in court the medical issues that were relevant to the case. She recommends more oversight for GALs, capping of fees and work hours, and easier removal of unfit GALs.

Kimberley J. Scott: Personal story.

Linda Dmirali: Personal story.

Linda Palermo: Personal story.

Lynne Jackson: Personal story: A practicing attorney since 1989, Jackson contests the charges of corruption against the GALs and judges of the family court, pointing out that GALs are appointed only in cases of extreme conflict. She emphasizes that most GALs do not expect to become wealthy off their practice.

Marjorie Partch: Personal story.

Mark Sargent: Personal story.

Mark Shea: Shea is Deputy Chief Clerk for the Judicial District of Litchfield, but testifies as a private citizen. He supports reasonable regulation of GALs, but disputes the claims of corruption made against GALs, and shares several stories of GALs he knew who did their work for little or no pay.

Name Withheld: Personal story. This is the testimony of a divorced father who has gone through the family courts of Stamford and Middletown. During a custody trial, he saw a witness accept an envelope from an attorney, a transaction which was ignored by the judge.

Paul Greenan: Greenan has attached a court docket, a complaint against an attorney, and an appellate court brief, but has not submitted testimony specifically on SB 494.

Peter Szymonik: Szymonik has worked for many years in the legal system and is also a divorced father. He has been financially devastated by his divorce, not because of high conflict between him and his ex-spouse but because of dysfunction and corruption in the family courts. He takes issue with the AFCC's power in the courts, and points to corrupt GALs who exploit families at their most vulnerable time. He recommends that Connecticut examine other states and countries which have instituted major reforms and oversight in their family court system. He has attached several pieces of literature regarding corruption in the Connecticut family courts and system models in other states.

Photios Dalamagas: Personal story.

Richard Oullette: Personal story.

Susan Skipp: Skipp's testimony does not comment on SB 494, but would like to raise awareness of an email sent out by a prominent GAL and member of the Task Force who sent out an email to other GALs and attorneys, urging them to attend this hearing. Skipp takes issue with this GAL's dismissal of outspoken parents as "disgruntled" and ignorant, and sees the email as exemplifying the corruption of GALs who do not have children's best interest at heart.

Reported by: Sarah Gerton

Date: April 22, 2014