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Guardian Ad Litem*
See new page on standards  for GALs (9/24/99)

If custody is in issue, a guardian ad litem ["GAL"] for the child should be appointed to represent the child's best interests.   Some of those interests are:

  • to prevent parents from subjecting the child to multiple evaluations in the hope of finding an expert who will support one or another's contentions
  • to prevent repeated interviews of the child

CAVEAT:  Being appointed by a court as a GAL does not guarantee that the person appointed has the requisite credentials and knowledge to fulfill her (or his) responsibilities as a GAL.  

  • Do not hesitate to inquire about the proposed GAL's credentials.
  • That the person may have been a family service officer in the court for many years is not necessaily indicative of the person's qualifications to act in the capacity of a GAL.  Too many social workers have not been trained under the watchful eye of a properly qualified clinical psychologist.  They are just put out there and get "trained" on the job.  More often than not, that simply is not enough!
  • Do not hesitate to challenge the appointment of an unqualified person to the GAL position!
In Massachusetts, for instance, it can be quite dangerous for both the child and the parent who is not the party favored by the GAL:
  • the GAL is not required by law to interview all the parties or their representatives
  • the GAL may include reports filled with hearsay from anyone
  • the GAL is not required to supply these reports to the accused parent
  • even a judge hearing the divorce trial cannot prevent the GAL report (and attachments) from coming into evidence; the report is automatically (by statute) considered evidence
  • another way of putting it:  the report can be filed in the court over the objection of the parent who was ignored by the GAL, not been given access to the GAL, not been given copies of the documents provided by nonparties to the GAL . . .
Your one hope is that you will get a judge who recognizes that the court-appointed GAL is not qualified.  If the judge must, as in Massachusetts (because of the statute), accept the report as evidence, the judge need not give the report much, if any, weight.  Yes, the judge can ignore the report even though it came into evidence!  The rationale is similar to that which a judge tells a jury: You can believe all the evidence, believe some of it, or believe none of it.

And while that may be helpful to your cause at trial, the child's best interests have been ignored.  In fact, the child may have been damaged in the interim by improper procedures and improper attention to the child's needs.

So be alert!   Remember that having a driver's license does not mean you're a good driver.  All that having a license means is that you drove well enough to pass the test on one day.   Keep that principle in mind when assessing the proposed GAL's credentials and qualifications and training and experience.

A PLEASANT NOTE: New Hampshire courts appear to be more sophisticated than Massachusetts courts in appointing GALs.

Massachusetts Office of Victims Assistance/Victim Witness
asked and received permission to copy and distribute this page on
Guardians ad Litem at an Annual Conference.

For details, click here.