What is a Court-Appointed Advisor and what is his or her function in a Family Law case?
You have a dispute with your child’s parent. One of you filed a petition or motion with the Court. The Court scheduled a Resolution Management Conference and at the conference, the Court tells you it is appointing a Court Advisor. Why? What happens now?
The Rules of Family Law Procedure provides for the appointment of a Child’s Attorney, Best Interest Attorney, or Court-Appointed Advisor. Each serves a different purpose. A Child’s Attorney or Best Interest Attorney act in a representative capacity – both participate in the case to the same extent as an attorney. On the other hand, a Court-Appointed Advisor is prohibited from taking any action that would only be permitted by a licensed attorney. However, a Court-Appointed Advisor can be especially helpful to the Court, in resolving disputes.
An order appointing a Court-Appointed Advisor must specifically state the reason for appointment, as well as the terms. For example, an Advisor is typically appointed in order to interview each party at their homes, review records – such as medical reports, school reports, emails or text messages, and police reports – speak to other interested parties, and often interview the minor child. The order will also state how the Court-Appointed Advisor will be compensated. Typically, the parties will be ordered to each pay 50% of the Court-Appointed Advisor’s fee, subject to reallocation. Therefore, the Court may order a party to pay a larger portion of the fee based on their unreasonable position, lack of cooperation, or other reason.
The Court-Appointed Advisor must have an opportunity to testify or to submit a report stating their recommendations regarding the best interest of the child and the basis for the recommendations. A Child’s Attorney or Best Interest Attorney are not allowed to testify or submit recommendations to the Court.
In order to qualify as a Court-Appointed Advisor, an individual must have received training or have experience in the type of proceeding in which they are appointed. Specifically, a Court-Appointed Advisor acts as more of a witness rather than a representative. The duties of a Court-Appointed Advisor are generally viewed as a witness or one who provides counsel or input. It is extremely important for you to cooperate with the Court-Appointed Advisor or comply with any requests of the Court-Appointed Advisor. You should treat the Court-Appointed Advisor with deference and respect. The recommendations of the Court-Appointed Advisor will be influenced by your cooperation and your honesty (or lack of) will likely be noted in the Court-Appointed Advisor’s report.
You, or your attorney, may question or cross-examine the Court-Appointed Advisor. However, it is important to remember that the Advisors appointed by the Court, appear before the judges often and are known to the Court. The Court views the Court-Appointed Advisor as an expert witness and relies on their recommendations.
A Court-Appointed Advisor may be especially helpful in a case where there are many factual disputes, an inability for the parties to cooperate, or the minor child is old enough to voice an opinion. Would a Court-Appointed Advisor be useful in your case? Possibly. It is important to consult with an attorney.
Contributing Attorney: Billie Tarascio litigates family law and domestic violence cases at Modern Law.
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