Note: This article is about guardian ad litems in the state of Maine. This role, and the process around a guardian ad litem may be different in other states.
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 on things like:
- where the children should live most of the time
- whether the child is being harmed by a parent’s substance abuse
- what contact the child should have with a parent
Learn more about Divorce and Parental RIghts and Responsibilities.
What does a GAL do?
That depends on the Court’s order. You can read the form the Court will use to write the order.
Sometimes the order is very broad. The GAL could be asked to look at the child’s overall situation and make general recommendations about things like parental rights. But usually, the Court will issue a “limited-purpose appointment.” This means they ask the GAL to look into just one or two issues like 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.
Read the Order in your case to understand what issues the Court is asking the GAL to look at. It will also name people the GAL needs to talk to.
The Court can order the GAL to make an oral or written report. You have the right to know what is in the report.
You can also read the law about what a GAL does, and how they are appointed.
Who can be a guardian ad litem?
GAL's can be lawyers or some kinds of mental health professionals who have had special training.
What does "best interests of the child" mean?
This is the standard the GAL and the Court have to use when they make decisions about children. Maine law defines the "best interest of the child" standard. It 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.
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.
There are many other factors they will consider. You can read the "best interest of the child" law here, at section 3.
Overall, the GAL must look at all the different factors that could affect the parent-child relationship. Then they make a recommendation. The GAL’s recommendation should protect the child's right to have a meaningful, strong relationship with their parents, in a way that makes sense and is in the child’s “best interests.”
What can I do if I have a problem with the GAL?
If you are worried that the GAL isn't looking out for your child's best interest, you can always talk with them. If you are not comfortable talking with the GAL, you can tell the court in writing or talk to the Magistrate at your next court meeting. You can also file a formal grievance (link is external)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).
Here are the main points:
- If the GAL is recommending something that is not something the child wants, the GAL must inform the court of the child’s wishes.
- 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 not allowed to show 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 follow all of their 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. 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.
You can also read the full court rules about Guardian ad Litems.
Updated July 2018
PTLA # 390