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Audit of Family Courts in California Counties Ordered

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on July 06, 2009 3:25 PM

Response to Concerns about Court-Appointed Specialists

Two California counties are going to have their family courts investigated for potential abuses in the way that court-appointed specialists are used. The state Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted unanimously last week to approve the audit in the two counties in response to the relatively higher number of litigants "reporting problems and filing complaints".

One report noted that the use of court-appointed specialists in family law disputes have been criticized in that "such appointees can form incestuous and incompetent networks more concerned with generating fees than helping children through painful custody fights." An advocate of the audit, State Senator Mark Leno said in an interview, "It becomes a service mill, a cottage industry of sorts...Maybe state law needs to be changed."

In essence, one concern is that such specialists may be more interested in making money than actually helping individuals going through the family court system. As a result, the audit is expected to look into questions regarding the process of selecting specialists in family court, their fees, their trainings, how their performance gets evaluated, and more.

Additionally, there have been significant concerns raised previously about California's family court system, sometimes centering on the possibility that many children may be getting ordered by courts into "unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce". That said, it is unclear whether, or to what extent if any, such decisions may be hinging or reliant on the advice of court-appointed specialists.

One legislator suggested that the unanimous vote to approve the audit reflected "widespread doubts about the system". However, if such doubts prove to be validated by the audit, it could potentially open up quite the can of worms for family courts across the state. Still, the presiding judge of one of the counties, Judge Verna Adams, actually welcomed the audit, saying ""We're happy to have this happen...We really would welcome a well-designed, professional review of our family law procedures...We're confident that we're following the law." Although no date has been set for the start of the audit, it is expected to take about four months to complete.

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