In some cases dealing with domestic relations, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to help investigate and gather facts regarding the parties’ relationship to the minor children and to present those facts to the court.
The GAL might have the following roles:
- Conducting factual investigation and gathering and reporting facts to the court
- Participating in the proceedings, including testifying at trial
- Serving as an impartial third person in the role of investigator and reporter
- Arranging for an interpreter for the child if needed
It is important to note that the GAL is an impartial part of the case and not available to provide legal advice to either the child or any parties. The GAL will NOT have the following roles:
- Serving as a legal advocate for the child or any other party
- Representing parties to the case
Just what does the appointed GAL investigate? Those include any facts related to the care, custody, and maintenance of the children, along with any facts involving domestic relations. For example, consider the following three scenarios:
- Ian and Isabel are getting divorced and have one minor child. Ian and Isabel separated two years ago, and Isabel has since found employment and established residence in another state. Isabel desires full custody of the child and wants to relocate with the child to the other state. Ian opposes that move.
- Jaime and Jake are getting divorced and have two minor children. Jaime has alleged that Jake frequently hits one of the children and abuses alcohol nightly. Jake disputes those allegations.
- Kyle and Katie are getting divorced and have three minor children. Katie desires full physical custody of the children and wishes for the children to stay in the marital home with her. Kyle desires full custody of the children and wants to move them to his new home, located in the next town. Kyle believes it is in the children’s best interest to stay with him. Katie believes it is in the children’s best interest to stay with her.
In each of the above situations, the court might appoint a GAL to work through the issues dealing with the care, custody, and maintenance of the children involved. The GAL may, for example, determine: matters regarding visitation and access to the children; matters regarding removal of the children from Massachusetts; and whether supervised visitation for either party might be necessary.
In doing his or her job, the GAL will have access to appropriate medical and hospital records, school records, and psychotherapy records, barring any privileged documents. The attorneys for both parties are expected to communicate with the GAL throughout the case, and to provide information which is necessary for the GAL to perform his or her functions.
The reports and recommendations of the GAL may be considered and followed by the judge in determining issues of custody and visitation; however, the judge may make an order which goes against the GAL’s recommendations. Both parties are entitled to review the GAL’s reports. The reports are, however, impounded and not made available to review by the public.
If you have questions about the role of a guardian ad litem in your case, schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form here, and we will get back to you at our earliest opportunity.