Attorney Renee Bauer (Karissa Van Tassel)
When you take a job as a guardian ad litem, you never really get to leave the office.
Often weekends are when the conflict is the highest and the emails from parties in divorce cases will come rapidly. They are long and accusatory. Everyone is a victim of their spouse’s behavior. You are asked to intercede. You are asked to set the other parent straight immediately. You are asked to perform miracles so long as those miracles are exactly what each parent wants but not what the other parent wants. When you can’t satisfy both parents at all times; you are the root of this family’s demise. You are the one getting wealthy off of their life savings. The judicial system is the broken piece. It’s not them.
This job is thankless. We are often ridiculed by one parent or the other, if not both at the same time. We can do no right. We are blamed for being biased. We are blamed for not being responsive enough. We are blamed for profiting from other people’s misery. Yet we continue to take these cases because the children matter most in this work. They are the reason we work more hours than we are paid for. It is the reason why we spend countless days trying to broker agreements between parents who are embedded deep in their hostility.
A child wedged in the middle of a custody scuffle is tragic. This child’s innocence is shattered. His spirit is severed. He is sad. Depressed. Withdrawn. He cries himself to sleep. He feels like he is at fault for his parents not liking each other anymore. Sometimes the parties’ counsel can help alleviate the toxicity and sometimes they hinder the healing. They can’t be always counted on to counsel their client as to do what is best for the children. This is where the guardian enters. We don’t have a magic wand to fix personalities and past wrongs. Our mission is peace and it isn’t successful for every situation but it is for some.
The role of guardian is not a cash cow to further our mission to early retirement. It is not an ego trip to play ruler of another family. It is a job nobody likes to do. Yet we do it. We do it as a service to our legal community because without it, these families would fall even further into an abyss of war in which no one is left standing at the end.
I won’t pretend the system is perfect or that every GAL performs their role flawlessly. Reform won’t fix disgruntled parents. They will forever be dissatisfied with the courts, the process, the professionals involved, and anyone who tells them differently. Is it so wrong for the family courts to offer the tools that encourage agreement over discord? These parents invite family relations counselors, guardians and therapists into their lives when they cannot see past their own fury. While it is a parent’s right to litigate, it is their children’s right to have their parent’s problems not become their own. It is their right to just be children.
What happens when you limit a guardian’s fees? Parents won’t be held accountable for their conduct and sometimes sticker shock gives fighting parents pause. As it is, we are rarely fully compensated for all that goes into these cases.
What happens when you give credence to parents who want a guardian removed? The court likely will be entertaining these requests frequently because the guardian at some point along the way will have an opinion that is not popular among one or both parents. This will be another delay in a toxic situation when the children need closure, not another professional in their lives.
Want to impose a Code of Conduct? Sure. Most of us probably abide unwittingly to such a code anyway. Most of us meet the children at the heart of the conflict, look in their unassuming eyes and think of our own children. You can’t do this job and not take the outcome personally. There is a lot at stake and it has nothing to do with our fees or our ego.
It would be a sad day for the judicial system and families alike, if the pool of guardians evaporated into a puddle because of impossible rules that were placed on us.
The single most important gift a parent can give their children is peace. When those parents can’t fulfill that job, we are asked to help bestow this gift to the family. This isn’t just business. It is personal and it is our job.
Renee C. Bauer is a principal at the Bauer Law Group in Hamden, where she focuses on family law. She recently authored the book “Divorce in Connecticut.”