Maine law provides for appointment of a guardian ad litem, commonly referred to as GAL, in court cases where the outcome may affect a child. The appointment of a GAL is typically done in cases involving divorce and custody. GALs are responsible for advocating the best interests of the child and to act as an objective and independent voice in the case.
Who Can Be Appointed a GAL
All GALs are appointed by a court and are either attorneys, mental health professionals, such as social workers or doctors, or other trained community volunteers, known as court-appointed special advocates, or CASAs. In divorce and custody cases, a GAL makes recommendations to the court regarding residency and a visitation schedule for the child. If the divorce case includes allegations of child abuse or neglect, a GAL must investigate the child’s living situation by contacting as many people in the child’s life as necessary, including medical professionals, school personnel and the child's extended family.
Advocating the Child's Best Interests
A GAL's advocacy for a child must meet the legal standard called "best interests of the child." This is a broad standard that encompasses all aspects of the child's life. To determine what is in the child's best interests, the GAL must consider such factors as the child's age, whether the child is mature enough to express a meaningful preference about an issue, and the child's relationship with each parent. In custody and visitation cases, a GAL must also consider the ability of each parent to cooperate with a parenting plan and use approved methods for resolving parenting disagreements.
GAL's Investigative Powers and Responsibilities
Maine law gives GALs investigative powers to access all records and reports related to the court case, including the child's medical and school records. In addition to these powers, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has established written standards of practice for GALs that require certain actions to be taken in every case. These include meeting with the child at least quarterly, or more often as ordered by the court, participating in all court proceedings and meeting with the child before every court hearing.
GAL's Recommendations to the Court
The GAL makes recommendations to the court both in writing and by participating in court hearings. Depending on the issues involved in the case, the GAL may be required to file a written report with recommendations prior to a hearing. The GAL may be questioned by the judge or other counsel at the hearing. She may present evidence at the hearing including calling witnesses, such as the child's parents or doctors, and cross-examining them. In all cases, the GAL's responsibility to advocate the best interest of the child includes ensuring the appropriate procedures are in place to protect the child if his testimony is necessary and, where appropriate, resist having the child testify at all.