Maine has four pressing very functional questions for Maine’s family courts.  They have been raised repeatedly by many citizen users of these courts, and the absence of clear, understandable answers poses a significant intellectual barrier to justice in these courts.  At present the answers to these questions seem like a sort of lottery or, worse, a guessing game for the public.  We would insist that the intellectual challenge of answering them isn’t beyond the ability of the courts and also that it shouldn’t be a different answer every time the issues come up,

1. Education for Guardians ad litem (GALs), judges, lawyers and the public about the content of the rules for GALs  and how to use them is vital. While the court’s’ experience may be different, it is our impression and that of a good many others that Guardians ad litem, judges, lawyers frequently have only a “general knowledge” of these important rules. The public who dig into them assiduously are often better informed on details. Our opinion is that a “general knowledge ” of the rules is insufficient for court professionals, if the rules are serious and to be used both to define the role and the role boundaries of a GAL. In our opinion and that of many, knowledge of the rules is so essential that it should be taught in depth and tested and retested after some period of time. The essential question is: do these court professionals have an exact knowledge of the rules, as a  core “tool of their trade”?  How do we know?  A test would help confirm that teaching has sunk in.

2. In our experience the question often arises as to whether a Guardian ad litem is “commanding” a party to perform a certain action or merely alerting the party to a “suggestion” the GAL will subsequently make to a judge. This is particularly troublesome when a GAL is addressing actions that fall outside of the specified GAL role. As we are sure the courts must be aware, this is a point of huge contention and would benefit from clarification of the issue, along with teaching re-enforcement.

3. In virtually every occupation, there is a routine, regular, standard procedure for managerial correction and improvement of performance. No one is considered “perfect”; every human makes mistakes (major or minor). One of the problem that consumers feel about GALs is the apparent lack of a managerial mechanism for helping a faltering GAL to improve performance, such as focused education on a particular skill, special reading, following a mentor, personal counseling, etc. It would both help a GAL  and bolster public confidence that performance will improve.

4. Finally, we raise the very vexed question of GALGuardian ad litem actions outside of the role boundaries defined by rules. In virtually every other profession in the world this would be considered unacceptable, and a range of in house sanctions would be applied ranging from severe warning , to loss of job, to legal action. This area is in enormous need of clarification, unless one is granting GALs a degree of near infallibility that even the Pope doesn’t claim!

It is long overdue for the court to give those who use family courts answers to these  simple questions.

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For related postings:
2014-01-01: Would you want a Guardian ad litem with this kind of training?

2014-01-10: The Ethics of My Cousin Vinny – Is this Really Guardian ad litem training?

2013-10-19: Guardians ad litem praised for doing a poor job… and a pat on the back

2014-02-22: Child Custody – An appeal to Maine’s Supreme Court: Dalton Vs. Dalton CUM-13-521