Florida has had a Renaissance in the way Guardians ad litem (GALs) are managed. Maine should take a long hard look at what Florida has done and think about how we might be able to use what is successful there and apply it here.
How Florida compares to Maine:
- In Florida GALs are not managed or overseen by the Judiciary. Instead the administrative branch is responsible for their management. In states where GAL oversight is with the legislature one can see a positive and working Guardian ad litem program. In Maine the Judiciary has the responsibility of management and oversight but has no compelling record of managing their own. Currently There is a committee that is working on reforming the Guardian ad litem program and is made up of members that work within this system. They are opposed to a change in management – who can blame them. When you are used to doing your own thing with no accountability a change can be scary – especially if you will now be held responsible for your actions.
- GALs in Florida are for the most part volunteers. To become a GAL one must go through an interview – like one would for any job. Potential GALs are evaluated on their experiences and if selected they go through a state funded and controlled training program. They have a supervisor and a place and or person they can go to if they have questions. GALs are paid a stipend for their work. In Maine and other states there is no job description or interview to see if a person might be a good candidate for being a GAL. One can become a GAL solely based on a social workers or lawyers background. Under special circumstances the Judiciary can make exceptions to these rules. The training then consists of at most 16 hours of lectures. There is no test to see if there is an understanding of the material at the end of training. As a new GAL in Maine you are given a binder with reference material. The only other resource for GALs is the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute for help. This is the trade organization of GALs and is concerned solely with advancing issues that benefit the GAL industry.
- The profit aspect has been completely removed from the system in Florida. The focus for the GAL is not billable hours as it often appears to be in Maine but instead it is with the child(ren). Guardians ad litem in Maine can charge as much as they want. The situation in Maine is so bad that the Supreme court “recommends” a ceiling of $5000 on cases (Please see: Douglas vs Douglas and Desmond Vs Desmond) because of the crippling nature of many GAL bills. The Guardian ad litem industry (Family Court, Guardians ad litem and the Guardian ad Litem Institute – to name a few) have claimed that this recommendation is unfair and disregard it. The Guardians ad litem will frequently use the courts in which they work to collect bills and will often have the bill embedded in the divorce decree. Penalties for non-payment can and do include liens on homes, wages that are garnished and jail time to coerce those that are not compliant.
- In Florida when working on a case as a Guardian ad litem you can take only one case at a time. One. Aside from the money aspect here in Maine one of the major complaints with GALs is that they spend little or no time with the child(ren). Certainly not enough to understand the child and to develop a relationship. We have heard from parents that a GAL will talk with their child(ren) just before court for 15 or 20 minutes. Or on those occasions where the GAL actually meets with the child(ren) outside of court the meeting often lasts no more than an hour. This is often the only time the child will meet with a Guardian ad litem. In Maine are GALs so good at what they do that they can fully understand a child(ren) to the extent that live altering recommendations can be made to the court? Apparently the court system feels so because our “Judges” allow for this to happen. Is it any wonder that as a parent you might be upset by this?
The average Guardian ad litem now cost divorcing families almost $15000. Wouldn’t this money have been better spent on child support for several years, or a year in college, or clothes and food for the child? What does the expense of having a Guardian ad litem do for the child? There are no reports that show the benefits of GALs in custody cases – only the hardship.
In Florida a Guardian ad litem actually spends the majority of their time working directly with the child(ren) and the parents to bring closure as quickly as possible. Guardians ad litem are not placed in a position or allowed to funnel business and money into the hands of court appointed therapists. In Maine Guardians ad litem will often recommend the use of counselors and therapists to the courts. These fringe “therapies” that are recommended by a GAL and mandated by the court are another source of enormous expense and humiliation for families. They accomplish nothing, have no goals and lack an end point – or evaluation of effectiveness. It is a serious 5th amendment violation and a violation of ones civil rights.
Guardians ad litem in Maine lack any supervision, management or anything that could be considered oversight. This is an invitation to financial fraud and exploitation by the system. The Divorce Industry (Family Lawyers, Guardians ad litem, Parental Coordinators, The Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute and others that feed off of these groups) mode of operation is divergent and lacks common sense. This court sanctioned and supported insanity has been going on for 40 years hurting innocent people. How much longer will this insanity be allowed to continue?
If you know someone who has had an experience with a Guardian ad litem or is looking for support. Please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or like us on Facebook.