I recently received a question on our website about how much input a GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) has with a judge during a divorce and custody case. That’s a complex issue so rather than write a quick answer to the question, I decided to write about it here on our blog.
What is the role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Massachusetts?
The Guardian Ad Litem, (GAL) is a person who is appointed by the court specifically for the purpose of representing the child’s interest while the parents are going through a court proceeding. The GAL’s role is unique because he or she must be independent of either party to the divorce or custody case. The GAL is there to make sure the child’s interests are taken into consideration during the proceedings either by making recommendations on the child’s behalf or by speaking the child’s actual wishes if that is age appropriate. The GAL’s function is to make recommendations based on what will benefit the child. A GAL will visit with the child and report on his or her living arrangements and interactions with those in his or her life. The GAL can request school or medical documents if he or she feels it would help provide supporting information to determine the best interests of the child and meet with any persons involved with the child, including but not limited to the teachers, caregivers, parents, etc., to investigate and make recommendations.
Who requests a GAL?
In the case of abuse or neglect alleged by either or both parties, the court may appoint a GAL during the proceedings. However, either party can ask that a GAL be appointed to see that the child is represented for their best interests. This request can be done through your attorney. It is important to note, that although a GAL’s role is to seek the best solution for your child – the GAL does NOT represent your child’s legal interests. The GAL is not the child’s attorney. (Note that a child can have an attorney but this is NOT the GAL’s role). This is an important distinction because communications between the GAL and the child will not be kept confidential and will be disclosed in the GAL’s report to the court.
Can a GAL benefit my case?
Again, a GAL is there to protect the child’s best interest. A GAL can be helpful when one parent is openly sabotaging the relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent and there is a divorce or other proceeding in the works. A GAL can be helpful if abuse or neglect is suspected on the part of the other parent. GAL’s are trained professionals and they know how to speak to children who may feel like they are caught between two parents. They also know how to bring in other professionals to look for signs of trauma or abuse.
Although the GAL is given quite a bit of leeway to do his or her job, it’s important to note that the GAL does not make the final decision on your case regarding the child. The GAL’s report is evidence, along with everything else. It is best to take a careful look at the facts, the evidence and the potential outcomes of a GAL investigation to determine if the services are necessary. Having a GAL on board can be extremely expensive and is only necessary in very difficult cases requiring a targeted, specific investigation to the facts and issues.
Call me for a consultation. We will sit down and talk over your specific situation and determine what is best for you AND your children.