Divorcing Parents Say They Are Gouged by Lawyer-Guardian Fees

Divorcing Parents Say They Are Gouged by Lawyer-Guardian Fees

CLEVELAND (AP) -- A growing number of divorced couples are discovering
common ground in complaining about the legal fees for attorneys
appointed to look out for their children.

Cuyahoga County's system of appointing lawyers as guardians is open to
abuse, a Cleveland newspaper reported Sunday.

"I think the use of attorneys is just a way to help them with their
practice and to make some more money," said David Skinner, who so far
has paid $13,000.

"This is something they had out -- `Here's a family that looks like
they have some money; maybe you can make some money here.'"

About 300 lawyers a year accept guardian assignments in contested
divorce cases in Cuyahoga County.  They meet with the children, assess
the situation and advise the judge on what the children need.

The lawyers are supposed to make sure the children's concerns are met
during the divorce proceedings.  They sometimes supervise visitation
and mediate disputes between parents.

In more than half the cases before the Domestic Relations Court, they
earn nothing or get a minimum $200 fee from the county if parents can't
afford to pay.

"By and large, the guardians are working at very low fees and in many
cases are volunteering their time," said Administrative Judge Timothy

But in cases in which the couple has assets, the guardian can bill them
rates of up to $150 an hour if the judge agrees, the paper said.

The court does not keep statistics on how much parents are charged.
But Flanagan said only a small fraction of cases end up with bills in
the $10,000 range.

He said the few complaints he had heard were from disgruntled parents
who did not like a guardian's opinion that custody should go to their

Social workers or trained volunteers are used as guardians in some Ohio
counties.  But Flanagan said the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations
Court decided to use lawyers because they know more about the legal

"This is an adversarial proceeding.  We want people representing
children who are familiar with the adversarial system," Flanagan said.

But Domestic Relations Judge James P. Celebrezze wants the court to
consider ending the use of high-priced lawyers with little background
in social work or psychology to help sort out difficult issues of
custody and visitation.  He suggests volunteers who are not lawyers.

Another judge, Christine McMonagle, said she is willing to try using
volunteers who are not lawyers in some cases.  But she said it is hard
to know ahead of time which cases will need a lawyer and which ones
just need an understanding individual.

Source:  _The Columbus Dispatch_, August 16, 1993