What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem, commonly referred to as a GAL, is a person appointed by the Court to investigate the facts of any proceeding pending in the court relating to or involving questions as to the care, custody or maintenance of minor children and as to any matter involving domestic relations. Guardians ad litem are often appointed in cases that raise questions about: a child’s best interests as related to custody and parenting time; advantages or disadvantages of removing a child from the Commonwealth; changes in circumstances that might warrant modification of a judgment; parental fitness related to termination of parental rights or guardianship; paternity of a minor child; or other matters implicating the rights and interests of a minor child. Guardians ad litem can also be appointed for the purpose of exercising or waiving social worker or psychotherapist privileges in instances where a party-in-interest, such as a child, is incompetent to exercise or waive such privilege.
Guardians ad litem report in writing to the court the results of their investigation. Guardians ad litem that are appointed by the Court are paid by the commonwealth at a rate fixed by the court. Guardians ad litem may also be appointed by agreement of the parties and paid privately by them. GAL reports are impounded and not available for public inspection.
There are various categories of Guardians ad litem. Category E GALs are evaluators and Category F GALs are investigators. A Category E GAL evaluates the issues and performs clinical assessments or other clinical functions as directed by the court. A Category E appointment may be appropriate where there are allegations of substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, or child abuse. Category E/Evaluator Standards can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/wf/categoryestandardsfinal_0.pdf. A Category F GAL investigates rather than evaluates the issues. An investigator should only provide descriptive information without clinical interpretations. Category F/Investigator Standards can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/sd/galstandards012405.pdf. Category E GALs should be competent to evaluate specialized topics such as substance abuse or sexual abuse within a forensic context while Category F GALs do not need such expertise. A GAL need not go through any special training to become a GAL, although certain backgrounds are helpful in particular cases.