We received an email from a supporter of ours and we really like his ideas on guardian ad litem reform. He sent along 5 suggestions and we added a few of our own:
1) In the initial meeting with the parents establish expectations from both the parent’s perspective and the guardian ad litem’s perspective.
Both parties should be clear and realistic on what to expect from the other.
2) Have the guardian ad litem billing be within a families budget. The bills that people have talked about are obscene. Just as the case Desmond vs. Desmond states “The litigation has cost these parties—in addition to the significant legal fees they have separately incurred—thousands of dollars in guardian ad litem fees. This is an extraordinary expense for parties whose combined annual incomes total just over $70,000. Courts hearing family cases are encouraged to cap and/or monitor the costs associated with litigation whenever necessary to protect the child’s best interest so that the funds needed to feed, clothe, and educate children are not spent on generating guardian ad litem reports or paying substantial attorney fees.” Cap fees as to not cause the families financial duress.
3) Have the GAL bill spell out what the guardian ad litem is doing. Detailed billing that comes once a month should help both the parents and the GAL.
4) We believe that switching GAL’s should work in the same way as obtaining a different attorney. If your guardian ad litem is deficient in his or her duties or if you have a complete disagreement in all aspects of what both of you see as an agreeable situation for custody or visitation, allow a change in the guardian ad litem.
5) Leave the Office of the Guardian ad Litem in the judicial branch but have it report to a board appointed by the Judicial Council. Oversight by this new board could at least partially resolve the ethical conflict of having the Judicial Council supervise the GAL.Leave the Office of the Guardian ad Litem in the judicial branch but have it report to a board appointed by the Judicial Council.
6) Have the new standard for children with regards to GAL’s be “For the safety of the child.” “In the best interest of the child.” is too vague and leaves too much room for interpretation.
7) If one of the parents has known mental health issues, a history of drug abuse, prescription or otherwise, a history of alcohol abuse and/or a criminal record, a thorough investigation should be made to make sure that parent is fit before granting them custody with an explanation as to why this parent was granted custody over the other parent.
And the last suggestion: Fire deficient guardian ad litems who have exhibited inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.
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To make suggestions on ways to improve the system, please submit those by July 1st 2012 to: firstname.lastname@example.org