Guardians Ad Litem (GALs) FAQs
- Motion to Remove a Guardian ad Litem from a case
- The GAL has been suspended or removed from the pre-approved "roster" of GALs;
- The GAL has been convicted of a serious crime; or
- DHHS has found that the GAL abused or neglected a child.
- Complaint to the Guardian ad Litem Review Board
What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem (often called a "GAL") is a person appointed by a judge to represent the best interest of one or more children in a court proceeding. By law, judges must appoint a GAL in all child protection cases; these GALs must either be licensed Maine attorneys or Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). GALs are only appointed in some family law and probate cases, however. GALs are only appointed in family matters and probate cases when there are special reasons for concern about the children; GALs in these cases must either be a licensed Maine attorney or a qualified mental health professional.
How does someone become a Guardian ad Litem?
Except in very unusual circumstances, a court will only appoint a person who has been pre-approved (or rostered) by the Judicial Branch to be a GAL. A person who wants to be placed on the "roster" (list) of pre-approved GALs must successfully complete a multi-day training program and be cleared through criminal and child protection (DHHS) background checks. The person must also demonstrate that he or she is in "good standing" with the licensing board for his or her profession (for example, a psychologist must show that he or she is not currently being disciplined by the Maine Board of Examiners of Psychologists). To remain on the roster, the GAL must complete all subsequent training programs made mandatory by the Chief Judge as well as six additional hours of relevant continuing education each year.
What are the duties of a Guardian ad Litem?
In a family law matter (primarily in divorce and parental rights and responsibility cases) the GAL's duties will be listed in the appointment order signed by the judge. The court's appointment order also explains who will pay the GAL and how much the GAL can charge for his or her services. In most cases, the GAL will be ordered: (1) to observe the child or children in the home or homes where they regularly live and, for children over age 3, to interview the child in person; (2) to interview each parent and any other adult who lives in the home or homes where the children regularly live; (3) file a written report with the court about the information gathered; and (4) make the wishes of the child known to the court. (This does not mean that the GAL has to ask the child about his or her wishes; it just means that the GAL has to tell the judge about the child's wishes if the child tells them to the GAL.) The court may order the GAL to perform less than the four duties outlined above or the court may order the GAL to do more. For example, the judge may order the GAL to make recommendations in the report about where the child should live or how to schedule visits between the child and parents.
It is important that you read the court's order carefully, because the GAL is not allowed to perform any more duties than those listed in the court's order. If you want the GAL to interview certain members of your family or a specific teacher as part of the GAL's duties; you must ask the court to order the GAL to conduct the interviews. Otherwise, the GAL will not be permitted to do so. This requirement exists to ensure that everyone clearly understands the GAL's role and to protect parents from having to pay a GAL for extra work not found necessary by the court.
In a child protection proceeding, the GAL's duties will be listed in the appointment order signed by the judge. In most cases, the GAL must: (1) review all mental health, medical, and school records; (2) interview the child or children and meet with the child or children at least once every three months; (3) interview parents, foster parents, teachers, caseworkers, and other persons who have been involved in caring for or treating the child; (4) file a written report with the court before all court hearings; and (5) recommend appropriate services to the court to protect the child's interests. The GAL is required to attend all court hearings in the case and may call witnesses to testify at the hearings. The GAL may also be called as a witness and the parents' attorneys or DHHS's attorney may ask the GAL questions at the hearing.
It is important that you read the court's order carefully, because the GAL is not allowed to perform any more duties than those listed in the court's orders. You should work closely with your attorney to make sure that the court orders the GAL to contact any people or review any records that you think are important to the case.
What if I disagree with the Guardian ad Litem's report?
If you disagree with the GAL's report or recommendations, remember that you have a right to call the GAL as a witness and to cross-examine (question) the GAL if there is a court hearing. If you call the GAL as a witness, you can use this opportunity to address issues with the information presented by the GAL. If you think the GAL was biased in favor of the other parent (or biased in favor of DHHS) you can also ask the GAL questions that might show this bias to the judge. If you have an attorney, your attorney will call the GAL as a witness and do the questioning. But, if you do not have an attorney, you are still allowed to call the GAL as a witness and ask questions. You will have to follow the judge's directions if the judge believes that you are asking questions not allowed by the Maine Rules of Evidence, however.
How do I file a complaint about the guardian ad litem?
If you have serious concerns about the GAL and your case is ongoing, you may want to file a written motion with the court asking that the judge remove the GAL from the case. Only parties to the case – usually the parents in a family matters case or the parents and DHHS in a child protection case – have the right to file a motion to remove the GAL. You should explain in your written motion why you believe the GAL should be removed. If you want a hearing on your request, you must ask for a hearing in your motion. When you file the motion with the court, you must send a copy of your motion to all of the other parties in the case and to the GAL.
The court must remove the GAL from your case if:
In all other cases, it is up to the judge to decide whether to remove the GAL from the case. If the GAL is removed, the judge will decide whether to appoint a new GAL or whether the case should continue without a GAL. Neither the GAL nor anyone else may appeal the judge's decision. This means that the GAL and/or other parties cannot file an appeal if the judge removes the GAL from the case and you cannot file an appeal if the judge decides not to remove the GAL from the case.
Complaints about GALs can also be made to the Guardian ad Litem Review Board. All parties to a case involving the GAL have the right to file a complaint. Judges and other concerned persons may also file complaints. These complaints can be made either while the case is ongoing or after the case is finished, as long as the complaint is made within six years of the date that the GAL's actions (that you are complaining about) occurred.
For information on how to file a complaint with the Guardian ad Litem Review Board see the Board's GAL complaint form and instructions at: http://www.mebaroverseers.org/complaint/GAL_Complaint.html.