Massachusetts Guardian Ad Litem

A Guardian Ad Litem (commonly referred to as a GAL) is appointed by the Court as an impartial third party to investigate and make recommendations as to what cause of action the Court should take in disputes relating to the care and custody of minor children. GAL’s can be appointed in many different types of cases. Some examples are:

  • when custody is disputed;
  • parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan;
  • a parent wishes to relocate with a child outside of the Commonwealth or sufficiently far enough away that the parenting plan would be impacted;
  • situations where there are issues involving domestic violence between the spouses or abuse or neglect of the children;
  • situation involving substance or alcohol abuse;
  • where the parents cannot agree on a medical course of action to treat a child; and
  • where the parents cannot agree on where the child should attend school.

In these and other scenarios, concluding what is in the best interest of the child is often difficult to determine. Judges also do not have the necessary time to conduct home visits or interview witnesses outside of court that is often crucial in these types of cases. In order to conduct a thorough investigation, a GAL will often speak with the parties, the child, family members, professionals who work with the child (such as day care providers, teachers, doctors) or a couple of personal references. An investigating GAL is not permitted to speak with a child;s therapist, psychiatrist or other mental health provider because there is a confidential privilege between a minor child and his or her therapist or mental heath provider. As a child cannot waive that privilege because he or she is legally not permitted to do so as a minor and the parents cannot do so because their interests and the child’s best interests might conflict. A special GAL must be appointed to make a determination on behalf of the child (known as substituted judgment) as to whether or not to waive the privilege.

In addition to interviewing witnesses, a GAL ill often want to observe the interaction between the parents and the child (separately). At the start of an interview, the GAL is required to disclose that any information provided by the witness is not confidential or privileged and may be disclosed at the discretion of the GAL. A GAL will often conduct home visits and request that the parties sign releases so the GAL can speak to the parties’ therapists and other providers to the parties and the children.

Upon completion of the investigation, the GAL will write a comprehensive report detailing the facts gathered, the denouements reviewed, the witnesses interviewed and the statements made during interview of the parties and any witnesses. The GAL, if required to as part of the appointment by the Court, will make recommendations relating to the issues which the GAL had been ordered to investigate. The report is then filed with the Court and is impounded to prevent public access to sensitive information. In addition, only the lawyers can have a copy of the report of the GAL. The Judge is not bound by the recommendations of te GAL but many judges give considerable weight to a GAL’s report and recommendations.

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A thorough investigation and an insightful GAL report can often help a judge make a more informed decision in determining what is in the best interests of the child. As in all family law matters, the skill of the attorney involved is crucial to ensuring a proper outcome to the case. At Berid & Schutzbank, Attorney Eric Schutzbank has demonstrated himself to be a thorough, fair and reliable GAL. His experience as a family law practitioner exceeds twenty years and his GAL practice is almost as long.

If you think you are in need of a GAL, have questions about the process or have been contacted by a GAL and want to understand your rights and determine how best to deal with the GAL, please call or email us at Berid & Schutzbank to arrange for a consultation.