Can a Child Have a Lawyer in a RI Divorce or Custody Case?

In Rhode Island Family Court, Judges rarely appoint a Lawyer to represent a child.  There is no tradition or culture of lawyers representing children in Rhode Island Family Court. The Vast Majority of appointments are for Guardian Ad Litems for the Minor Children.

What is the difference between a Lawyer for a child in Family Court and a guardian ad litem?

A Lawyer represents the child’s interests. A guardian Ad Litem advocates for the best interest of the Child. It is not a subtle distinction!

The Basics

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In Rhode Island (RI), A guardian ad litem is an individual who represents the hypothetical best interest of the minor child in a child custody, visitation or other type of Family Court case. The Guardian is not a lawyer for the minor child! Guardians are frequently used in contentious custody cases when the parties can afford the additional expense. The RI Family Court Judge could make an appointment or the parties can agree to a guardian being appointed. If the parties cannot afford a guardian, the court can have Rhode Island Family Services do a home study and investigation for free.

What qualifications are necessary to be a guardian Ad Litem in Rhode Island Family Court?

A Guardian Ad Litem is typically an attorney / lawyer who has been certified by the Family Court. They are required to get certified by the Court after hours of training. They could also be a psychologist or psychiatrist. It is very expensive. Usually, both parties pay 1/2 of the expense. However, if one party has substantially more resources then the other party then that person may be ordered by the judge to pay up to 100 percent of the cost. If one-person’s conduct caused the need for the Guardian Ad Litem or is at fault they could be ordered to pay up to 100 percent of the cost.

The expense of a guardian ad litem

A retainer usually averages between $2,000 to $4,000 depending upon the complexity of the case. This can be very difficult to afford in a Rhode Island divorce or custody case because both parties are paying their RI divorce attorney / lawyer. In complex cases involving lots of evidence, witnesses and complexities, a guardian may cost substantially more than $4000. They bill on an hourly basis ranging between $150 to $300 an hour.

The Guardian does not make the final custody, placement or visitation decision.

A guardian does not make the final decision as to which parent shall get physical placement or legal custody of the child. The judge makes the final decision regarding custody, visitation and physical placement / possession after hearing testimony at trial or hearing. The guardian drafts a report to submit to the Court with his or her findings and recommendations.

What types of cases can guardians be appointed in?

A Guardian ad Litem could be appointed in a dcyf case, divorce case, visitation case, custody case or other type of Family Court action

What role does a Guardian ad Litem for a child perform?

The Guardian interviews both parents and interviews other witnesses involved in the children’s life such as teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, grandparents, aunts etc. The Guardian will have full access to medical records related to the child and perhaps the parents. He will have access to education, religious and other records related to the child. The amount of witnesses interviewed sometimes depends on whether the parties can afford additional work. The guardian typically interviews the minor children about their opinions concerning legal custody, placement and visitation. The older the child is the more weight the he or she will give to the children’s preferences regarding custody or visitation. The Guardian can recommend that other professionals get involved such as licensed clinical social workers, and psychologists.

Can a parent challenge the Guardian’s recommendations?

Even though the judge makes the final decision regarding placement, legal custody and visitation, in reality the guardian’s report usually decides the issues. The judge typically adopts the recommendations of the Guardian. Both parties have the right to call the guardian as a witness and challenge the opinions and the basis of those opinions. However, judges typically get frustrated by anyone who challenges the recommendations. It is extremely difficult to get a RI Family Court judge to not adopt the recommendations.

Legal Notice per RI Rules of Professional Responsibility:

The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer/ attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice.