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Court-appointed Guardian ad Litem services, aka, Parenting Investigations and Parenting Coordination

Mediation - Guardian ad Litem - Alternative Dispute Resolution

Christopher Hahn, Ph.D. & Constructive Agreement, LLC
Bozeman, Montana

Dr. Chris Hahn's goal is to help families resolve their conflicts in the most constructive manner. Dr. Hahn offers different of services to match the degree and duration of the conflict. The first choice is always mediation, but when mediation does not work, Court Ordered conflict resolution may be advantageous.

Why the need for Court ordered parental conflict resolution in parenting-related cases? Sometimes, high-conflict or difficult cases cannot be resolved in mediation. The traditional fall-back position is to "go to court" using the adversarial system, but the adversarial process can be damaging for children, the elderly, and other vulnerable people. Litigation is expensive and outcomes are not necessarily going to be in the best interest of the children or vulnerable people because the Judge must rule within a system that is adversarial by its nature.

  • Guardian ad Litem (custody evalutations) help conflicted parents develop parenting plans that are in the best interest of their children. Often, pre-decree parents are too enmeshed in separation-related turmoil to get a clear vision of the parenting arrangement that will help their children grow up in the healthiest possible manner. The guardian ad litem does an extensive multi-modal investigation that builds on the strengths of both parents whenever possible. Attorneys, if they are active with the parties, are a valuable part of the process that is only done through court appointment.
  • Guardian ad Litem (Parenting Plan Coordination) through Court order is indicated when parental turmoil and conflict persists for years after the divorce decree, or in extremely contentious cases. A parenting plan coordinator (PPC) enters a long-term relationship with the family to improve communication and help resolve conflict. In serious cases, the PPC may start by eliminating the need for parents to talk directly with each other. In less serious cases, parental communication is greatly improved by the presence of a trained and concerned third party. The children are the big winners when a PPC gets involved and helps to resolve conflict in a constructive manner. Attorneys remain a valuable part of the process that is only done through court appointment. Therapists and counselors remain involved with the children and parents if these professional relationships already exist. If therapy and counseling relationships do not exist, they may be recommended. Dr. Hahn is not a psychologist, therapist, or counselor, but he may work with therapists and counslors as a part of a team effort.

  • Brief Focused Assessments are Court-ordered focused assessments of specific issues that relate to the best interests of the children and parenting. BFAs lack the scope of full parenting evaluations, but they can help resolve particular sticking points that are blocking optimal parenting. BFAs are much less expensive than full evaluations. Because the parties know that the assessor must report to the Court, the assessor is often able to reach mutual agreement in cases that failed mediation. BFAs may be used to help expedite the creation of a new parenting plan or to fine tune an existing arrangement.

Lawyers are often involved with the cases handled by Dr. Hahn, and they can be extremely valuable in counseling, educating and helping their clients understand that the best solutions often do not come from the adversarial process in the courtroom. Lawyers often participate in alternative dispute resolution processes. If therapy and counseling relationships do not exist, they may be recommended.

Dr. Hahn, who has received specialized training for parenting evaluation and coordination, is a certified as a custody investigator by the Supreme Court of North Dakota. He is a member of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and adheres to their Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluation, Guidelines for Parenting Coordination, and Guidelines for Brief Focused Assessment. He focuses on the best interests of the children of separation and divorce; he is not a psychologist, therapist, or counselor and does not provide these services. When these services are indicated he may work with psychologists, therapists and counslors as a part of a team effort.

The stakes are especially high in child custody disputes where the developmental future of each child is at risk. Cases that have failed mediation and attorney conferences are deferred to judges who are often forced to make judgments based on their limited court-based view of the litigants. But what if judges could get in-depth data from a neutral party? What if judges could better understand the family systems involved in each case? After all, effective parenting plans are based on legal and social considerations.

Guardians ad litem/parenting evaluators are social scientists who get to know the parents and the children in their homes. They interview people close to the family and examine records pertinent to each case. The findings of custody investigations are delivered in reports to the court, and the guardin ad litem will testify as necessary. Custody evaluation reports often result in attorney-led settlement conferences and out-of-court agreements.

Court-appointed guardians ad litem/parenting plan coordinators are involved with day-to-day disputes and decision making. Even with the involvement of a PPC the Court has the final say, but a Court hearing is generally unnecessary. A PPC can usually help settle conflicts that are more agreeable to both parents in a manner that is far more beneficial to the children than an adversarial battle that is decided by the Court.

Parties in a dispute generally reach superior outcomes when alternative dispute resolution techniques are used before resorting to more judge-like techniques. Alternative dispute resolution techniques often lead to constructive agreements that save the parties money and lead to better outcomes for children.

(406) 522-4143

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Copyright, 2005-2012, Christopher P. Hahn, Ph.D., Bozeman, MT