What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A “Guardian ad litem” (GAL) is a person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the “best interests of a child.” Here, we are talking about a GAL in a divorce or parental rights and responsibilities case. The GAL will look into the family situation and advise the court about issues such as:
- where the children should live most of the time
- whether the child is being harmed by one parent’s alleged substance abuse
- what contact the child should have with the other parent
What does "best interests of the child" mean?
Maine law defines the "best interest of the child" standard. The standard includes many different elements. For example, when making a recommendation about where a child should live, the GAL should consider the age of the child. A five year old may have different needs than a 15 year old. So the court expects the GAL to consider the child's age. Other factors include:
- the child’s current relationship with parents,
- the stability of each parent’s living situation, and
- the parent’s ability to cooperate or learn to cooperate in caring for the child.
Overall, the GAL must look at all the different factors that could affect the nature of the parent-child relationship. Then the GAL makes a recommendation. The GAL’s recommendation should protect the child's right to have a meaningful, strong relationship with his or her parents, insofar as that is practical and in the child’s “best interests.”
Who can be a Guardian ad litem?
GAL's can be attorneys or some kinds of mental health professionals who have had a special training.
What does a GAL do?
That depends on the terms of the Court’s order. You can go here to review the form the Court will use to write the order. Sometimes the order is very broad – where the GAL is asked to look at the child’s overall situation and make broad recommendations about custody, etc. But more often, the Court will issue a “limited-purpose appointment.” – asking the GAL to look into just one or two issues that are concerning the court (such as: a parent’s record of substance abuse; or a parent’s current ability to make rational decisions about a child’s care, based on a current mental health care provider’s information).
So, you need to read the Order in your case to understand what issues the Court is asking the GAL to look at. It will also specify who the GAL needs to talk to.
You will also see in the order form that the Court can order the GAL to deliver either an oral or written report. In either case, you have the right to know the contents of the report.
Go here to view the law on appointment of GAL's and their duties.
What can I do if I have a problem with the GAL?
If you are concerned that the GAL is not representing your child's best interest, you can always speak with the GAL directly to discuss your concerns. If you are not comfortable speaking with the GAL, you can inform the court in writing or speak with the Magistrate at your next court meeting. You can also file a formal grievance with the Guardian Ad Litem Review Board.
What else do I need to know?
You should read and understand the six rules explained in the “General Provisions” section of the order (near the bottom).
We briefly summarize the main points here:
- If the GAL is recommending something that is contrary to a child’s express wishes, the GAL must inform the court of the child’s position.
- The court “seals” the GAL’s reports so they are private to the parties and to the court. No one else can see them. This means that you are also prohibited from showing the report to others, unless you get the Court’s permission.
- The law requires you to cooperate with the GAL. As long as the GAL is doing what has been ordered by the Court, you must comply with all of the GAL’s reasonable requests.
- You may not “exercise undue influence” over your child. This means not to “coach” your child about what to say to the GAL or the Court and not to “orchestrate” your child’s behavior in order to gain advantage. [Be aware that if either the GAL or the Court thinks that you are trying to manipulate the process in this way, it will probably work against you.]
Find the full court rules governing Guardian ad Litems here.
Learn more about Divorce and Parental Rights in Maine
Updated November 2015
PTLA # 390