Custody, visitation and removal cases are often decided based on the investigation and/or evaluation of a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”). GAL Consultants can help clients navigate the process.
Probate and Family Court Judges are empowered to appoint a GAL by state statute. General Laws c. 215, Section 56A, provides in pertinent part: “Any judge of a probate court may appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate the facts in any proceeding pending in said court relating to or involving questions as to the care, custody or maintenance of minor children and as to any matter involving domestic relations except those for the investigation of which provision is made by section sixteen of chapter two hundred and eight. Said guardian ad litem shall, before final decree in such proceeding, report in writing to the court the results of the investigation, and such report shall be open to inspection to all the parties in such proceeding or their attorneys. . . .”
GALs must conduct their investigations or evaluations according to specific standards. The standards for GAL/Investigators, or “Category F” GALs, who are usually attorneys with experience in family law, can be reviewed here.
The standards for GAL/Evaluators, or “Category E” GALs, who are mental health specialists, who not only investigate the facts of the case, but also evaluate and analyze such facts in light of their particular mental health and clinical backgrounds, can be reviewed here.
The GAL is intended to be a neutral, independent fact-finder. During the course of the GAL investigation, the GAL talks to the child’s parents, usually to the child, and often to other adults living in the home, or with whom the child and/or the parents have frequent contact. The GAL will usually schedule home visits with each parent prior to writing their report for the presiding Judge. A successful home visit is often a crucial component to a GAL report that is in a client’s favor.
During the GAL home visits, in addition to fact-based observations about the interviewee(s) and the child’s home environment, GAL/Evaluators will examine parental functioning and competence. Based on the GAL’s findings, the GAL will make recommendations regarding parenting plans that are intended to meet the child’s best interests.
It is in this particular area, i.e. demonstrating exemplary parental functioning and competence, where clients in our custody cases have benefitted from a referral to GAL Consultants, mental health professionals, who are engaged to conduct a confidential consultation with a client to prepare him or her for the GAL investigation or evaluation. The topics that will likely be the focus of such a consultation include how the client deals with child-related discipline, moments of separation, issues related to attachment, how effectively the client can redirect a child who is misbehaving, how a client will promote the relationship between the child and the other parent if that client is awarded primary physical custody, and, most importantly how insightful a client is on an overall level related to the child’s care and custody.
If you have any questions about GAL investigations/evaluations, or you are about to become the subject of such a process and are need of legal consultation and/or a referral to a GAL consultant, feel free to reach out to any of the Fitch Law Partners LLP Family Law practitioners, who will be happy to assist you.