The Muskie Guardian ad Litem Project evaluated the use of Guardians ad Litem (GALS) in divorce and parental rights and responsibilities cases in Maine.
The research suggests that there are significant benefits of GAL appointment for children in contested court proceedings. GALS effectively represent the best interests of children in family proceedings. They assist the Court in issuing custodial decisions, assist in settlement of highly contested cases and otherwise expedite the legal process. In addition to their investigative function, GALS report working with parents and children in an effort to reduce conflict between family members and to connect families with needed social services.
Despite these benefits, the research reveals two shortcomings of the current system. First, there are 500 to 850 low-income cases a year in which Judges and Case Management Officers cannot appoint a GAL because the family is without funds to pay the GAL, fee. This results in a two-tier system within the Family Court whereby the benefits of a GAL are denied to the overwhelming majority of low-income children. Second, the research suggests that there are a number of factors affecting the quality of GAL representation. These factors include GAL training and education, the experience of the GAL, and the availability and accessibility of social services for low-income families.
The quality of GAL representation could be enhanced by increased training opportunities for GALS, mentoring programs, efforts to compile resource databases, allocation of judicial staff, and collaboration with parent education programs and mental health professionals. These efforts, however, will not address the basic fact that low income children do not have access to GALS because of the lack of income in their households. Unless the Legislature, the Judicial Branch and concerned members of the Maine community decide to allocate financial resources to provide GAL representation to low-income children, these children will continue to be underserved.
Beyea, Alison A. and D' Alessandro, Frank, "A Voice For Low-Income Children: Evaluating Guardians ad litem in Divorce and Parental Rights and Responsibilities Cases" (2002). Children, Youth, & Families. 29.