A local’s point of view: Northland needs advocates for divorced children – Duluth News-Tribune


Practicing family law may seem easy. How difficult can it be, right? You get home. I will keep my retirement. You pay with your credit cards. I will pay the dentist bill. We’ll split up the property, set aside the debt, and get my name off your car.

Then you hear this: Well, you get to see the kids on the weekends; Otherwise, they live with me.

wait what? I do not agree with that! I’m calling my lawyer!

This is actually a very smart next step. While divorce and custody may seem simple, it is very complex and can require the help of many professionals to make the process go smoothly.

And you might be the next person to help.

One of the main reasons why family law is so complex is that parents often cannot decide how to divide the children. They are not pets or furniture. ¬ęTake the eldest; I’ll get the little ones” or “How about the girls; Can you get the boys? It just doesn’t work.

The hostility and tension we often see in divorce will sometimes prevent perfectly good parents from making the custody decision that is best for the children. You can always have a trial and let the judge decide. But many cases can be settled if there is only some input from an independent and trustworthy third party who is not standing up for the mother or father, but for the children.

Attorneys, judges, mediators, counselors, and therapists are all used to help decide custody issues when the parents are not able to do so themselves. But there is a real need for a new tool that has been successful elsewhere but has not yet been tried here in Northland: the Competent Focused Evaluator.

Your job as an abbreviated assessor is to interview the lawyers, identify areas of interest, then interview the children and report back to the court.

Sounds simple, right? Somehow, it is. But we are looking for people who can use their experience, character, integrity and wisdom to provide helpful feedback that can help determine what is best for children.

Perhaps a teenager says that she will not live with her mother. Or it seems that the child is afraid of his father. The parents may live in different school districts, and we need input from the children. Using a brief, focused evaluator would help get children’s input without putting them in the middle of their parents’ divorce.

Divorce is hard enough for children. Expecting them to testify before a judge makes it worse, and most judges won’t allow that. As a briefly focused resident, you will assist in cases where parents are unable to make a decision on their own.

I have been Chairman of the Domestic Family Law Division of the Minnesota State Bar for many years. As a group, we have been exploring cost-effective ways to bring children’s perspectives to judges. Most people cannot afford an expensive custody appraisal, but hiring a brief and focused evaluator may be the final part through which custody issues are efficiently settled. So far we have had the support of the courts. Now, we just need to find some evaluators to see if this actually works.

Perhaps you are a retired teacher, nurse, or therapist. You may have worked in a nursery school, as a minister, or in religious education. Maybe you just love children. There are no official requirements yet. All you need is to have an interest in children and families and be willing to help. Our plan is to compile a list so that the lawyers can select suitable residents. You will of course be paid, and attorneys may have certain preferences or requirements. Ultimately, I suspect, the courts will add their own requirements. For now, though, we’ll try that.

We hope that brief focused assessments will solve current problems in effective and affordable ways.

If you are interested in making divorce and custody a little easier for the children, please contact me. We will discuss the program and see if you can help. I’d love to hear from you.

Pete Radosevic is an attorney in Isco and serves as Chair of the Family Law Division of the 11th District Bar Association. He can be reached at Pete@RadosevichLaw.com.

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