Is this Guardian ad litem reform?

Making an official complaint about the Guardian ad litem who has worked with you and your family is a daunting process. It forces you to deal with the Judicial Branch of our state government, which is an unfamiliar organization and an unfamiliar activity for most people.  You have to guess what they will agree is a valid complaint. At the moment, unlike the state of NH, our Judicial Branch gives no instruction about how to. The current complaint process simply says, if you believe that a Guardian ad litem has not acted in the “best interests” of your child, you may make a complaint to the Chief Judge of the District Courts. It has been a most frustrating process for most grassroots consumers. The answer from this process seems to be inevitable: dismissal – without reasons given or without a chance to participate in the investigation or rebut the Guardian ad litem’s defense.

But … in response to public pressure, the Judicial Branch has just finished drafting  a “new” complaint process concerning Guardians ad litem. In our view, it is NOT an improvement over the old procedure.  Unless… you are planning to go to law school for instructions in how to use this new complaint procedure by yourself. It was designed in 3, 2 hour meetings by a committee of 20 persons, all but one are called,“stake holders”, read: members of the divorce industry; District court judges, family law lawyers, and Guardians ad litem. Given their special interests, they did a terrific job of “bullet proofing” Guardians ad litem from public complaints.

The Judicial Branch has settled on a process that is not consumer friendly, but it is very Guardian ad litem friendly. Its fancy legalistics make the current process look like a primitive bow and arrow approach.  It has been endorsed by 19 of the 20 Judicial Branch Committee members (one public member dissented in a “minority” report). It now goes to the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature for approval. We sincerely hope that it isn’t approved.

The basic structure of what is being proposed adds several layers of complexity and will take considerable time to complete. It will be administered by The Overseers of the Bar, which is under the Judicial Branch.  As we understand it, the steps one would have to go through would roughly follow:

  1. File your complaint in writing (no instructions yet), and a staff lawyer on the Overseers of the Bar will review the complaint to decide whether or not it has merit, and you will be told why. If it is felt to be without merit, then the complaint would die here. If it is felt to have merit, then it goes to a panel, a committee, the majority of whom are Guardians ad litem.  Consumers are also on the panel buy in a minority position, and we don’t know how consumer is defined: friends of Guardians ad litem or consumers who will advocate for the public?
  2. The first Panel – would review the complaint and conduct an investigation of the complaint. This process could take anywhere from one month to five or six. If the first Panel determines there is no merit to the complaint, it is rejected and the reason for rejection is sent to both the Guardian ad litem and complainer. If on the other hand the complaint is accepted, then it goes to the second Panel.
  3. The second Panel – would review the complaint independently and conduct an investigation of the complaint. This process could take anywhere from one to (unknown) months. If the second Committee determines there is no merit to the complaint, it is rejected (dismissed). If on the other hand the complaint is accepted then it goes to what would amount to as a mini trial.
  4. The Mini Trial – Both sides would come together to plead their case. You as the person who filed the complaint would have to prove that the Guardian ad litem had abused his/ her position/ role. The Guardian ad litem would have to prove nothing. The burden of proof is on the one complaining. If you were not able to prove your case the trial would end end the complaint would be dismissed.

In all fairness, we may have some of this legalistic tangle wrong. Our excuse is that we haven’t been to law school yet, but we’re considering it! Our own difficulty in understanding this process, as informed consumers makes the point that it is indeed confusing. As a consumer – would you feel comfortable when faced with such a daunting labyrinthine task as we understand it?

The Judicial Branch, in proposing this complex, lengthy  process, is saying to the public that they want nothing to do with oversight. That the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the consumer to determine quality of their officers of the court. Can you prove we have a defective officer of the Court to two Panels of other Officers of the Court?  It is a tough assignment!  Can anybody do it?

As the consumer filing this complaint you quite possible will want to hire a lawyer. That will cost you the time and expense. An additional detail:  the Judicial Branch is asking to TAX every divorcing couple $100 to cover the cost of this extremely user-unfriendly process. Imagine the next time you go to a store and purchase something and being told that you are going to be charged extra – to cover the cost of any potential complaint you may have. The consumer who has little or no experience with this type of system that is being proposed will probably back off of the complaint because of the daunting process before him/ her. Is it any wonder that there have been only 2 complaints a year? This is a good way to make sure there are no complaints.

We urge consumers to ask their legislators to fight this Judicial Branch proposal. We urge consumers not to use it if it is approved. If you have had issues with a Guardian ad litem please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com.