By Kelly Mendoza, Rose Law Group Family Law Attorney
There is a dispute between you and your child’s other parent that has escalated to an initial or follow up case before the Judge. The Court has held a Resolution Management Conference (or a Return Hearing) and at that time the Judge orders the appointment of a Court-Appointed Advisor. Why did this happen; what do you do now; what is the process moving forward?
In Arizona, there are several types of experts that can be appointed by the Family Court in a case that involves minor children and each serves a distinctly different purpose. One of the possible appointments is that of a Court-Appointed Advisor (“CAA”). The Judge can appoint a CAA in cases where 1) there are allegations of abuse or neglect of the child; 2) there is persistent high conflict between the parents; 3) there is a history of substance abuse or family violence; 4) the child is a toddler or younger or has special needs and there are serious concerns about the mental health or behavior of either parent; or 5) for any other reason the Court deems appropriate.
The Order of appointment for a CAA must clearly state the reasons for the appointment and the terms of appointment including the scope of the CAA’s authority. The CAA will have access to the child, the parents, education and medical records, etc., as well as any privileged or confidential information relating to the child. The CAA will then conduct their investigation and issue a written report with findings and recommendations regarding the best interests of the child to the Court. The CAA will be available as a witness at the hearing. The Court views the CAA as an expert witness and values their opinions.
In some instances the appointment of a CAA can be extremely helpful because hearings in Family Court are notoriously short in the time allotted to present evidence and the CAA will have ample time prior to the hearing to conduct their investigation, review various documents, speak with the child, parents, teachers, etc., and boil down the evidence to a comprehensive written assessment that the Judge will be able to review prior to the start of the hearing. This assessment will also include information such as whether a parent was cooperative with the investigation so it is advisable to fully cooperate and treat the CAA with respect.
At other times however it can be detrimental to the case especially when that CAA is not qualified to provide input on the issues they are assigned to address. The CAA can only be a qualified individual who has received training or experience according to the established standards in the type of matter they are appointed to. It is important to review the background and experience of any expert that you are considering for appointment or that has been appointed by the Court to determine if that person has the experience needed in your matter.
For instance, in cases involving allegations of family violence it is essential to insure that the CAA on your case has specific qualifications and experience in this area. If the CAA does not have specialized experience there are a number of concerns related to family violence, such as the danger assessment risk factors and intimate terrorism to name just a few, that may be missed. If a CAA is appointed in your case and upon review of the qualifications of the CAA you are concerned that the individual does not have the appropriate experience or knowledge, a challenge to the appointment should be submitted to the Court immediately.
Although it can be discouraging when wanting to quickly resolve your family matter, in the long run a CAA can be very beneficial for your situation. They will help resolve the issues you are facing and help you receive the best conclusion for you and your children.
To further discuss this or any other family law matter, Kelly Mendoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org