Neutral Professionals: Their Roles and Impact

A neutral professional is a third party called upon by either the parties involved or the court in an attempt to resolve a family law dispute as efficiently as possible without unnecessary, expensive court litigation. There are a variety of neutral professionals that may be utilized for this purpose, including: guardians ad litem, parenting time expeditors, custody evaluators, parenting consultants and custody mediators.

According to Minnesota Statute 518.165, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem in any proceeding involving custody or parenting time of a minor child. The guardian ad litem’s job is to represent the best interests of the child and advise the court of those interests, including recommending specific custody and parenting time arrangements.

In disputes involving parenting time, a parenting time expeditor may be appointed by the court (either at the court’s discretion or upon the request of either party) to facilitate a resolution. Generally, the parenting time expeditor is authorized by the court to make a binding decision resolving the dispute.

During contested child custody proceedings, an investigation and report concerning the custodial arrangements for the child may be ordered at either the court’s discretion or at the request of one of the child’s parents. According to Minnesota Statute 518.167, the investigator, or custody evaluator, “may consult any person who may have information about the child and the potential custodial arrangements except for persons involved in mediation efforts between the parties.” This includes, with consent from the child’s parent, obtaining information about the child from medical, psychiatric or school personnel. The investigator’s subsequent report will include the investigator’s custodial recommendation and the reason(s) for the recommendation. This report, including the recommendation, may be used in court at the custody hearing.

Parents also may choose to utilize parenting consultants and/or custody mediators to help them resolve their differences amicably through negotiation. These trained professionals will facilitate the discussion between the parties, helping them reach agreements that are in the best interests of their child(ren). While the professionals may give recommendations to the parties, in the event that no agreement can be reached, they typically are not authorized to issue binding decisions.

Courts are increasingly utilizing the services of neutral professionals to help resolve family law disputes, and often depend on the professionals’ recommendations when rendering decisions. It is important for your case that you understand the roles and impact of such a professional. For more information on your Minnesota family dispute, contact Banas Family Law at (651) 361-8109.