Once again, we are hearing from the Maine divorce industry a repeat of their 2013 analysis of consumer complaints about Maine Guardians ad litem (GALs) and Family Courts. To put it in a very small nutshell: “Whiners!”, “Losers!”, “Those with a bad result in court!”
And … there is that timeworn, mindless ‘mantra’ that in a contested divorce somebody HAS TO WIN, and somebody HAS TO LOSE! It is the “has to” that functions as a “we rest our case” conversation stopper. It implies that there is no other way than an adversarial model of child custody dispute resolution, that all family matter cases split neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys”, and that family court judges and their sidekick GALs are OMNISCIENT. Impartiality reigns. Please, move on.
It is hard to believe that these tired, worn-out articles of lawyerly faith are being dragged out once again in 2015 for the 127th Legislature. We thought that they had been laid to rest on March 28th, 2013, when members of the public testified before the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature, all afternoon and into the early evening. Judiciary Committee members were profoundly moved by the credibility of stories of horrifying family court and GAL dysfunction. It was a “wake up call” for even the most skeptical legislator, and it lead to LD 872, a GAL reform bill, being passed into law and signed by the Governor on July 8th 2013.
But … once more with feeling! Let’s refocus the lawyer’s stereotyped conversation.
To begin with, no one is asking the legislature for a change in the outcome of their custody case, much as many are unhappy with the steps leading to their outcome. Please, note that there are 7 brand new bills before the Judiciary Committee that address GAL and Family Court issues. None of these bills are about the outcome of a particular divorce or a group of divorces. None of these bills are about “whining”, “losing”, or “bad result”. They are all about much needed structural reform for GALs and Family Courts. They speak to court dysfunctions in urgent need of repair. They implicitly speak to the impossibility of having a “good outcome” as the result of a badly broken, dysfunctional process. They may also speak to “deferred maintenance” by the Judicial Branch that badly needs repair. In addition, we would maintain that the beneficiary of the current dysfunctional ‘status quo’ are the lawyers in the 26% minority of family court cases which can afford to pay for a lawyer.
So much for “whiners”!! Who is whining now?
Most of the bills deal with the grossly inadequate structural design issues, such as, 18 hours of GAL training for a job requiring high level professional skills, the absence (after 3 years of hard work by the Judicial Branch) of a consumer friendly complaint protocol that will enable “corrective action” of recognized GAL dysfunction, moving the complaint procedure to the Bureau of Professional Licensing (after 3 years of no working plan by the Judicial Branch), eliminating quasi judicial immunity from GALs when they “improvise” activities outside of their written “Rules”, disallowing judges to use “discretion” about whether Rules for Maine GALs are followed – or not. Judges, we feel, should follow the law like anyone else.
One of the most important bills in our opinion, is the bill calling for an audit of ‘pro se‘ litigants in family courts. 74% of litigants in family matter cases cannot afford a lawyer and must go it alone in court. It is a terrifying situation to be alone in an unfamiliar legal culture advocating for your child. Beyond the immobilizing fear of combat in court, it is an extremely unfair situation.
For 74% of Maine people involved in family court matters, Family Courts are no longer an impartial court but the setting for a crude “gladiatorial fight”. Unarmed combatants against fully armed lawyers. It is beyond “David and Goliath”. There is an urgent humane need for Maine to move the “whiner”/”Loser/”bad result” conversation into a review of solid facts. What is the experience for ‘pro se‘ consumers? How do judges and lawyers function with 74% of nonprofessionals in their courts? How can this situation be reformed? How can the horrifying 74% ‘pro se‘ numbers be reduced significantly?
Without wanting to appear “to whine” about it, we feel that an audit by an organization, like OPEGA, will give answers and eliminate lawyerly name calling as a foil for real answers.
Just call me a “bad sport“, as they did in 2012.
MeGAL believes in educating and legislative process. If you would like to become involved in reforming our Family Court and Guardian ad litem system please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or call at 207-370-9801. We may also be found on Facebook.
For further reading relating to Pro se litigants in Family Courts:
2014-11-17 Family Court , ‘Quo Vadis? “improvement, reform or implosion”?
2014-10-12 The Pro se Problem in Family Courts
2014-05-28 PROPOSAL FOR AN AUDIT OF ‘PRO SE’ REPRESENTATION IN MAINE FAMILY COURTS
2014-03-18 Hon. Andrew Mead – We must work together to ensure justice truly is for all in Maine – a response