Independent Custody Assessments
Developing and Maintaining Realistic and Reasonable Client Expectations
Your client is confused, fearful and unhappy about how his or her custody case is progressing. You try to maintain perspective. However, custody litigation has its ups and downs, and at times, it is difficult for clients to hear and accept your good advice. The frustration and angst they experience in one of the most difficult times of their lives interferes with rational thinking. Sometimes, it even leads them to distrust the family law court system, or even to start questioning your judgment and advocacy.
A dose of reality from the independent viewpoint of an almost 30-year veteran Guardian ad Litem and custody litigator can be eye-opening for clients. For many, it may allay fears and frustrations. For others, it helps with developing or adjusting expectations. A custody assessment can validate your approach to the case, and help rebuild your client’s confidence in you, and in the court system. Or, it may answer questions, and provide you with different perspectives and trial strategies.
You and your client will receive objective feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the custody case, as well as suggestions for improving the client’s odds for a favorable custody ruling. The independent nature of the custody assessment is key. You and I have very different and distinct roles in your clients’ custody cases. You are the client’s advocate. I, on the other hand, am an outsider, hired to give an educated assessment of the custody case, based on years of experience. Similar to late case evaluations, independent outside feedback can be the reality check that clients need.
After discovery and the Guardian ad Litem investigation are complete, it is important for you and your client to take a step back from the minutia of the case and focus on the big picture. At this point an independent custody assessment will help to adjust the client’s expectations and goals so that you can develop reasonable settlement options to take to mediation. With the insight, knowledge and perspective that clients receive, they let go of unreasonable positions, and become more flexible in settlement negotiations.
An independent custody assessment is particularly beneficial in damage control situations. For example, you may need to minimize the impact of an unfavorable Guardian ad Litem report, or the effects of your client’s unbecoming behaviors and temporary lapses in judgment. Two heads are usually better than one when the going gets tough. Working together may spark new angles that have not yet occurred to you, and an action plan to repair the damage.
In the initial phases of your client’s custody case, an independent custody assessment provides your client with a picture of what to expect during the litigation and the Guardian ad Litem investigation, and an idea of potential outcomes, given the then-known evidence. Armed with this information, the client is in a position to develop reasonable expectations, and you will be in a position to work on a trial strategy for presenting the issues, and building a strong custody case moving forward. A custody assessment may also unveil areas in the custody case where your client may benefit from one-on-one litigation support for clients, or where you may benefit from litigation support for attorneys.
An independent custody assessment is an added tool to your litigation toolbox that enhances your client’s custody case. Clients appreciate the extra insight and support they get as they work their way through the unfamiliar territory of custody litigation. Without realistic and reasonable expectations, they are bound for disappointment. Attorneys appreciate the additional perspective in their difficult cases, and the support in building stronger custody cases.