The Team of Professionals Involved in Family Law Cases

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Allyson TomchinHere is a listing of some of the professionals and the statutes from Florida courts that may be called in to your case when there is a child involved. While your state may be different, this is a good guide for the definitions and roles each may play.

Social Investigator
Florida Statutes:  61.20

The social investigation is performed by an impartial mental health professional, according to F.S. 61.20, who is qualified to provide the court, the parties, and the parties’ attorneys with a thorough report addressing the best interests of the children. Social Investigations consist of a home-study and assessment which may include, but are not limited to:
•    Interviews with each child, parent, step-parent, or adult in a parenting role
•    Visits to the homes of each parent
•    Observations of each child with each adult in parenting role
•    Screening for domestic violence and abuse; all allegations are investigated
•    Contact with others living in each home.
•    Contact with relevant professionals, such as teachers, doctors and employers
•    Interviews with objective character references submitted by each parent
•    Background checks of relevant police and court records
•    Findings of related cases, when identified
•    Completion of relevant surveys and questionnaires as requested by the social   investigator
•    Presentation of facts to the court, addressing all the pertinent details relevant to a child’s best              interest, and addressing parental responsibility and time-sharing arrangements as requested.
•    May include recommendations to the court.

Psychotherapist                                                                                                                                        Florida Statutes: Chapter 491, Chapter 490

Psychotherapy is the treatment of a client’s mental health problems by talking with a psychiatristpsychologist, licensed clinical social worker or other mental health provider. During psychotherapy a client learns about their moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors and how to better respond to life’s challenges.

Psychotherapy includes interactive processes between a person or group and a qualified mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, licensed counselor, or other trained practitioner). Its purpose is the exploration of thoughts, feelings and behavior for the purpose of problem solving or achieving higher levels of functioning  Psychotherapy aims to increase the individual’s sense of his/her own well-being. Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialoguecommunication and behavior change that are designed to improve the mental health of a client or patient, or to improve group relationships (such as in a family).

GAL – Guardian Ad Litem
Florida Statutes:  61.403

A guardian appointed by the court to represent the interests of Infants, the unborn, or incompetent persons in legal actions.

Guardians are adults who are legally responsible for protecting the well-being and interests of their ward, who is usually a minor. A guardian ad Litem is a unique type of guardian in a relationship that has been created by a court order only for the duration of a legal action. Courts appoint these special representatives for infants, minors, and mentally incompetent persons, all of whom generally need help protecting their rights in court. Such court-appointed guardians figure in divorces, child neglect and abuse cases, paternity suits, contested inheritances, and so forth, and are usually attorneys. Guardians ad litem have extensive power and responsibility. Their duties are greatest in cases  involving children, where they investigate, attend to the child’s emotional and legal needs,  monitor the child’s family, and seek to shield the child from the often bruising experience of a lawsuit.  Their function as officers of the court is also extensive: in addition to compiling relevant facts,  interviewing witnesses, giving testimony, and making recommendations to the court on issues of  custody and visitation, they ensure that all parties complywith court orders. Guardians Ad Litem are appointed to cases by the program to be the “eyes and ears” of the court as well as the “voice” for a child in court. They investigate allegations of abuse, abandonment and neglect; and make recommendations to the court in behalf of what they feel is in a child’s best interest. Guardians visit the child once a month and gather information so they can learn what the child’s needs and issues are.

Parenting Coordinator
Florida Statues: 61.125

(PC) is a relatively new practice used in some US states to manage ongoing issues in high-conflict child custody and visitation cases by professional psychologist or a lawyer assigned by the Court. There are 10 states as of May 2011 that have passed legislation regarding parenting coordinators: Colorado (since 2005), Idaho (2002), Louisiana (2007), New Hampshire (2009), North Carolina (2005), Oklahoma (2001), Oregon (2002), Texas (2005), and Florida (2009). Parenting Coordinators are usually of two types: licensed professionals in a mental health or pastoral field of counseling, or attorneys who are in good standing with their state’s Bar Association.  The parenting coordinator usually meets with both parties regularly, receives day-to-day questions and complaints about any aspect of a party’s conduct, and makes recommendations to the parties. These recommendations effectively become obligatory for parents to follow because the Parental Coordinator can later testify in court about the non-compliance.
The purpose of parenting coordination is to provide a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process whereby an impartial third person called a parenting coordinator (PC) assists the parties in developing or implementing their parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of disputes, providing education and making recommendations to the parties, and, with the prior consent of the parties and approval of the court, making limited decisions within the scope of the order of referral.

The PC may be ordered in family law cases in which parents experience difficulties in dealing with one another in parenting their minor children, in order to help them develop, modify, and implement their parenting plan, monitor compliance with the details of their time-sharing arrangement, and help them resolve their child-related disputes in a timely manner. The PC may provide education about effective co-parenting strategies, and may refer the parties to community resources for services and treatment, if necessary. When the parties agree, the court order gives the PC the authority to make temporary decisions on child-related issues in order to immediately relax the parents’ conflict. These decisions may not be substantive in nature, and must be within the scope of the court’s order of referral.

Mediator
Florida Statutes: Chapter 44

Mediation is a service provided by the courts that allows litigants to solve their disputes without having to go to trial.                                                                                                                                                
A judge will order parties to mediate issues. A mediation proceeding is conducted in an informal, non-adversarial atmosphere with mediators who serve as a neutral third party. Mediators encourage discussion between the two parties in an attempt to have the parties reach an agreement. This setting allows the parties to decide the result of their case. Parties are never forced to accept the agreement before them. If an offer is not mutually agreed upon, the mediator will declare an impasse and report the results back to the court.

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