The 12th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida has launched a pilot program designed to provide guardians ad litem for children involved in high-conflict divorce and custody cases in the Circuit’s Family Law Division. All the volunteers for this ground-breaking program are attorneys from the Sarasota and Manatee County offices of the law firm of Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg, P.A.
The program is directed by the Honorable Lee E. Haworth and Charles E. Williams, who are co-chairs of the Circuit’s pro bono program. After recognizing a need for independent parties to represent the best interests of children in contentious cases, the judges approached Robert Lyons, president of Icard Merrill, to ask if the firm would consider volunteering to advocate for these children, all of whom are from families at or below the poverty line. Icard Merrill has a substantial history of providing pro bono services to the local community, and it was this dedication that prompted Icard Merrill to respond positively to the challenge. Twenty-four Icard Merrill attorneys have signed up to volunteer, from new associates to the most senior shareholders, drawing from all of the firm’s practice groups and specialties.
“Children caught in the middle of an acrimonious divorce need an independent voice to speak for them in court, to make unbiased recommendations and to ensure the judges have the best information possible,” said Judge Haworth. “Because there is no state-funded program to allow guardians ad litem in family court, we have created this pro bono program to address a very real need in our circuit. I commend Icard Merrill for being willing to take this on as I know it will be a significant investment of time and resources. The end product, however, will be a better result for children, and there can be no higher calling than the protection of vulnerable kids.”
The attorneys, joined by judges, judicial staff and various family court personnel, have already completed their training for the program, and case assignments are expected to begin in May in the Sarasota and Venice family divisions. If the program is as successful as expected, it may be opened in the future to other attorneys, regardless of specialty, who wish to volunteer to help children in this unique way.
For more details about this program, please refer to the attached Q&A. Requests for media interviews of judicial representatives or Icard Merrill representatives should be directed to the above contact.