Guardians ad litem the “Best Interest Police” coming to your divorce

Looked at from a distance, the whole concept of a states Guardian ad litem program is hard to understand from its official description. From what we hear from its users, it doesn’t do much-if anything- to help children. It is confusing (and expensive) for families. It is unmanaged and un-supervised and is not accessible to the kind of functional “corrective action” that is available to most public programs. As we see it – operationally, Guardians ad litem have virtually absolute power to act in whatever they choose with divorcing families and children. Compliance with “Rules and Standards for Guardians ad litem” has no enforcement, therefore is purely voluntary on the part of the Guardian ad litem. It is a truly unique institution in democratic America more like the apparatus of a police state.

It might be asked why do non-criminal, non-abusing, divorcing couples need the Best Interest Police to investigate and determine whether their parenting practices and attitudes are in their children’s “best interest”? Why aren’t all American parents under the surveillance of Guardians ad litem as “best interest police” for their children. In the interests of equal opportunity, shouldn’t the parenting practices of all American parents – divorcing and non-divorcing – be watched and evaluated equally carefully for the child’s “best interest”? The obvious answer is that a total surveillance of everyone’s parenting practices by outside agents of the government, or by whomever, would bring on a violent upheaval that would make the American Revolution seem like a Sunday school picnic. Guardians ad litem in divorces are the “nanny state” on totalitarian steroids.

Conceptually, we would suggest that Guardians ad litem seem to function ‘de facto’ as “Child’s Best Interest Police”, empowered by judges to look for the “evil that lurks in the hearts of ‘men’ (humans)”. Watch out as those neighbors, friends of your spouse and others line up to share their thoughts about your parenting skills (and much more) in secret exchanges with a Guardian ad litem. Though there are “Rules and Standards for Guardians ad litem”, there is no administrative “oversight” (no enforcement) from the mother organization, the Judicial Branch of state government. Such “oversight” as there might be comes from a feeble complaint process that depends on the courage of consumers to face-off against the “Best Interest Police” in the “Mother house” of all lawyers, the Overseers of the Bar.

It is a situation that is beyond “David and Goliath” to have the courage to complain to the Overseers. It is an all or nothing, winner-take-all situation and the odds against a complainer winning are formidable. Filing a consumer complaint, forces consumers to address both the substance of their Guardian ad litem complaint and the prejudice of the lawyers in the Overseers, who firmly believe that their colleague Guardians ad litem are “wonderful, do good work, help many children”, unfounded opinions openly expressed by the Family Law Advisory Commission (and other Judicial Branch officials). How do you tell powerful people who admire and respect Guardians ad litem, that their colleagues, that the people they esteem have “messed up”? Where do you run for cover from a vindicated, vengeful Guardian ad litem when your complaint is dismissed? Where is the protection for a “complainer”?

It may be deemed impertinent for us to ask: “Why has no one ever done any formal program evaluation of this hugely expensive, , much criticized, run-away program? Are Guardians ad litem really “doing good work” or “helping children”? What do families say? What do children say? What do objective child-development evaluators (outside of the sweep of Judicial Branch/Muskie School influence) say? Is the program working for public benefit? Are kids better for having had a Guardian ad litem? After 39 years doesn’t it need formal study and, perhaps, a bit of program tweaking? Where’s the data? Why is there NO program evaluation data?

We would say that the absence of any well-founded program evaluation after 39 years is itself a public scandal. There are many symptoms of program dysfunction and many witnesses to this dysfunction. Program evaluation needs to move beyond judicial , “feel-good” anecdote.

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