Although this new law doesn't completely address all of the issues that were raised by many individuals during the public hearings, in my opinion it is progress in the right direction. Generally, the law addresses the following: provides the parties to a family law matter, with information about 15 GALs, including hourly rates, retainers and the "scope of work" that the GAL has been assigned (by the Court) to complete; allows for a sliding scale in regard to fees if warranted by the parties financial situation and ordered by the Court; an end date by which the GAL must complete the assigned work; 16 factors of which at least one or more must be considered by the GAL when considering what is in the best interests of the child; allows for a third party to intervene by motion; a procedure to have a GAL removed for cause; children's qualified college fund/savings are exempt from assets utilized to pay legal fees (e.g. attorneys, GALs, AMCs, etc.); the Court may not order a party to use a credit card to pay such legal fees; the Judicial Branch is required to develop and implement a professional code of conduct for GALs; the Court is required to consider one or more of 16 factors in determining the best interests of the child and although not required to assign any particular weight to any of the factors that it considers, it is required to state the basis for such decision; and at the end of the case the GAL is required to provide the court with the total hours billed and cost for his/her services. This is an important data collection opportunity as this area of law continues to be monitored by officials and the public. The aforementioned list is not intended to be all inclusive and only reflects some of general areas of change based on my overview.
There are many qualified GALs on the State list which includes over 1,000 GALs that have completed the state GAL training. However, it is a selected few that actually provide GAL services in the Family Law arena. Why? Something to ponder. It will be interesting to observe whether the changes in this recent law coupled with the media/public attention on the "issues of concern" in regard to Family Law, expand the list of GALs assigned to such cases. My expectation is that it does not continue to remain only the "select" few who are assigned based primarily on what appears to be established relationships with Family Law attorneys and judges.
Overall, I believe this new law provides for improved accountability of GALs/AMCs and requires that relevant information be provided to the parties so that informed decisions can be made, including by the Court.
I am a certified GAL in both Connecticut and Minnesota. It is an honor to serve children in the context of adult disputes and/or maltreatment, and with such honor comes responsibility and accountability to diligently understand the facts involved in a particular case and any other relevant issues/information to be considered in determining what is in the best interests of the child, including the 16 factors. It is important to be unbiased and to have an understanding of the children.
Sadly, it was just last week that an individual shared with me that during their divorce that was final in the fall of 2013, the court appointed GAL never met the 3 children he was appointed to determine what he believed was in their best interests in the context of the divorce and Parenting Plan. In my opinion, given the age of the children, this is unacceptable.
I believe the role of a GAL is important and useful in particular cases. Further, I believe the GAL should be reasonably paid for services rendered (remember a GAL is not providing legal advice or representation). As we move forward under this new law, I encourage the Judicial System to expand the "pool" in which they drawn upon and utilize the "untapped" GALs who possess the necessary skills, knowledge, personality traits, attended the mandated training and have a sincere desire to be an effective GAL. Remember, that having a JD Degree is not a requirement to be a GAL.
Let us all recommend what is in the best interest of the children, understanding fully the needs of the specific children and their family dynamics. In my opinion, this is not an arena for an absolute "cookie cutter approach". I recommend not expending unnecessary energy relentlessly attempting to force a "square peg" (parent) into a "round hole." Be creative and be willing to think outside the box, if it results in a solution that is indeed in the best interest of the children.
Beth A. Pritchard
Nothing in this post shall be considered legal advice and I encourage you to consult an attorney for interpretation of this new law and/or how it may impact your particular situation.