D’onfrio Decision Limits Power of Guardian Ad Litem in RI Family Court

The seminal case in Rhode Island concerning  guardian ad litems in Rhode Island family Court is D’onofrio v Donofrio, 738 A.2d 1081 (R.I. 1999) The Rhode Island Supreme Court gave wide discretion to the trial judge to appoint a Guardian ad Litem in Child Custody cases in Family Court.

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Divorce in Rhode Island

Judge makes final decisions not guardian ad litem

The Rhode Island Supreme Court made it very clear that ultimately it was the trial justice who makes the Final Decision Concerning custody, visitation and placement in Rhode Island.***** Please Consult with a  Child Custody Lawyer Concerning your Rhode Island Family Court Case

Below you will find some important excerpts from the D’onfrio Decision

“In this state no statutory mandate requires the appointment of a guardian ad litem in child-custody disputes. See G.L.1956 § 15-5-16.2(c) (“[t]he court may, if in its discretion it deems it necessary or advisable, appoint an attorney or a Guardian Ad Litem to represent the interest of a minor or dependent child with respect to his or her * * * custody”). Rather, a “trial justice has the inherent power to appoint a guardian ad litem whenever it appears that there are interests of minor to be protected.” Parrillo v. Parrillo, 495 A.2d 683, 686 (R.I.1985) (citing Zinni v. Zinni, 103 R.I. 417, 421, 238 A.2d 373, 376 (1968)).

“This Court‘s review of a child-custody award is limited to whether the trial justice abused his or her discretion. Pettinato v. Pettinato, 582 A.2d 909, 914 (R.I.1990)” “In this state, no law requires that a guardian’s recommendations and/or report should carry greater weight than any other evidence presented. On the contrary, here, as in other jurisdictions, “The recommendations of the guardian ad litem do not, and should not, carry any greater presumptive weight than the other evidence in the case. The guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the best interests of the child, not to make a conclusive or presumptive determination; that is the province of the court or master.” Richelson v. Richelson, 130 N.H. 137, 536 A.2d 176, 180 (1987).

“In our opinion “[t]his conclusion does not undermine or minimize the role of the guardian ad litem, not does it suggest that the guardian ad litem’s representative capacity is insignificant to the determination of custody arrangements.” Id. It should be noted, however, that the State of Rhode Island does not require any special training, background, qualifications, or particular expertise of a guardian-ad-litem candidate before such an individual can be selected to serve in this capacity. In this case, even though the court-appointed guardian was an attorney with experience in family law, she was not a child psychologist or some other child-care expert. And whereas some guardians ad litem may possess special expertise that might lend greater evidentiary weight to their testimony and reports, no such result follows as a matter of law.”

Editor’s notes

*****Editor’s Note: In the real world of RI family Court Child Custody, Visitation and Placement battles, the RI Family Court trial justice adopts the Guardian’s decisions in the vast majority of the Rhode Island Child Custody Cases. It is very difficult to convince a justice to do otherwise.