Those who work in the Guardian ad litem industry, live in an extremely unusual, court-protected, economic world. Once they are appointed to a case by the court, they have a well-paid, court-protected cushy job. For the most part they charge between $100 to $200 per hour on average. They ask for a substantial cash advance of two or more thousand dollars before they start, which means that they are paid for services in advance. They are very hard to remove from a case, once started. Even if clients try to remove them, their continuance under client protest is virtually insured in court by the well-worn mantra, “in the child’s best interest”. While many do detailed monthly invoices; many do not. Nor are they under any obligation to itemize the activities for which they charge, if it is “not in the child’s best interest”. Billing clients by GALs is strictly a matter of do your own thing. It is a consumer protection nightmare to say the least. There is no consumer protection. The only thing protecting a consumer is the individual integrity of the GAL on the case. If you have a unprincipled GAL, you are just out of luck. However, GALs themselves are well-protected by the court. There is no ceiling on the limits of their bill, and they can run up charges for unidentified services that can top 25% of the parties annual income. You dispute the bill, you ask for identification of charges, you want to know what created the exorbitant bill. Can’t tell; won’t tell: “Not in the child’s best interest”! The court effectively protects the GAL’s secrecy, and you will never know. Unlike any other service in this country, you can be ordered to pay in excess of 25% of your annual income, for unidentified charges. Could a doctor, a lawyer or a carpenter get away with this sort of billing? No because you would take them to court.
Financial problems and divorces frequently go hand in hand. Divorces often come on the tail end of marriages with financial disasters. Finances are disrupted, homes in jeopardy, debts are out of control, credit is broken or non-existent. A GAL invoice for over 25% of one’s annual income (or more), adds additional problems. The cost of a divorce can easily run to $25,000.00 or more. A GAL’s fees can frequently exceed $12,000.00. And … these are conservative figures. How do the parties finance these expenses? Beg, borrow or steal. Mortgage, if you can, or ask friends and family to help. Frequently it falls to retired parents on a fixed income taking out a mortgage on their home. There are no standards for GAL charges, for tailoring fees to incomes and debts of parties, for the outer limits of GAL charges (ceilings). Those trapped as service recipients get hammered financially.
Why do GAL charges go off the chart? This is an important question that should be investigated by the Judicial Branch. Our hunch is that excessively high GAL charges are the result of GAL “mission creep”, services that go beyond the statutory regulations. Getting to know the child, obtaining and reviewing records, talking with professionals and families, and other data collection activities, along with appearing in court are not apt to generate huge fees that go beyond retainers. It is the social service type of activity, the counseling, the mediation attempts that are riddled with GAL role conflicts of interest and that gobble up hours and raise fees. The GAL is a business and the idea behind a business is to generate revenue. For a GAL can bill with no limits and have the court force the parties involved to pay. Restricting GALs to statutory activities only would be a start at cutting costs.
We strongly urge that the Judicial Branch enact ceilings on GAL charges, that they mandate a financial scale for charges that takes into account the economics of the parties and their ability to survive and to be responsible to their children, that GALs do monthly invoices, that they identify charges and that their records be available to back up charges. We also urge that GAL “mission creep” be curtailed and statutory activities be enforced.
There is a desperate need for consumer protection in this industry.
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