"It feels like your heart is going to crumble and it's hard to breathe."

"It's a scary feeling that doesn't go away at night even if you turn on your bedroom light.""You figure if your parents can break up, what else can fall apart?'

Utah children, who have had to go through the pain of divorce with their parents, have described their fears in these ways.

But children's fears and their uncertainty about their futures frequently get overlooked in a power struggle between divorcing parents, says Peter Billings Sr., member of the Commission of Justice in the 21st Century.

To protect children's rights and provide a friend for children to talk with during the breakup of their family, the Justice Commission is recommending that a guardian ad litem (court-appointed attorney) be available in domestic cases, Billings said.

"After studying the needs of children caught in the Utah justice system and hearing the testimonies of child advocates, the commission is urging additional legislative funding to expand critical guardian ad litem services," he said.

Currently, Utah law requires a guardian ad litem be appointed in cases of abuse and neglect - but not in most divorce cases.

Roz McGee, executive director of Utah Children, testified before the Justice Commission that the present funds and programs for children in domestic cases are "totally inadequate."

"Utah's divorce rate exceeds the national average. In 1990, there were 10,957 cases of divorce in the state. Given Utah's large families, many children are affected by divorce and the related legal issues of custody, child support and visitation. Equitable resolution will help children move beyond the crisis of divorce," she said.

Divorcing parents are thrown into an adversary-driven process with no one looking out for the special needs of the children, she contends.

"When stresses build between parents, they frequently become desperate themselves. Financial pressures mount. Children too frequently become victims of abuse and neglect," she said.

"We boast in Utah that children are our foremost concern, but in the domestic arena, children are forgotten."

McGee is pleased with the Justice Commission's recommendation. Many states have established creative court-sponsored programs, relying on trained volunteers, to assist families at the time of divorce. Specifics on how the Utah program would be funded will be determined after a series of public hearings this spring.

Speaking on behalf of children affected by divorce, Salt Lake teenager Kim Shelley supports the concept of a court-appointed mediator whose job it is to defend the legal rights of children.

When her parents divorced, they each had an attorney. Kim felt she needed someone besides her parents - someone who wasn't on either side - to discuss her many questions about her legal rights and her future.

"I was panic-stricken. I wondered, `Where's Dad going to live? Is he OK? Will he visit me? Does my parents' divorce mean I will have to `divorce' one of them?' " she said.

"Kids need an older friend so they can try to put the broken parts of life back together again - even though things won't ever be exactly the same."