Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Money pit that is Guardian ad litem fees and invoices

Those who work in the Guardian ad litem industry, live in an extremely unusual, court-protected, economic world. Once they are appointed to a case by the court, they have a well-paid, court-protected cushy job. For the most part they charge between $100 to $200.00 per hour on average. They ask for a substantial cash advance of two or more thousand dollars before they start, which means that they are paid for services in advance.  They are very hard to remove from a case, once started.  Even if clients try to remove them, their continuance under client protest  is virtually insured in court  by the well-worn mantra, "in the child's best interest".  While many do detailed monthly invoices; many do not.  Nor are they under any obligation to itemize the activities for which they charge, if it is "not in the child's best interest".  Billing clients by GALs  is strictly a matter of do your own thing. 

It is a consumer protection nightmare to say the least.  There is no consumer protection.  The only thing protecting a consumer is the individual integrity of the GAL on the case.  If you have a unprincipled  GAL, you are just out of luck.  However, GALs themselves are well-protected by the court.  There is no ceiling on the limits of their bill, and they can run up charges for unidentified services that can top 25% of the parties annual income.  You dispute the bill, you ask for identification of charges, you want to know what created the exorbitant bill.  Can't tell; won't tell: "Not in the child's best interest"!  The court effectively protects the GAL's secrecy, and you will never know.  Unlike any other service in this country, you can be ordered to pay in excess of 25% of your annual income, for unidentified charges.  Could a doctor, a lawyer or a carpenter get away with this sort of billing? No because you would take them to court.

Financial problems and divorces frequently go hand in hand.  Divorces often come on the tail end of marriages with financial disasters.  Finances are disrupted, homes in jeopardy, debts are out of control, credit is broken or non-existent .  A GAL invoice for over 25% of one's annual income (or more), adds additional problems.  The cost of a divorce can easily run to $25,000.00 or more.  A GAL's fees can frequently exceed $12,000.00.  And ... these are conservative figures.  How do the parties finance these expenses?  Beg, borrow or steal.  Mortgage, if you can, or ask friends and family to help.  Frequently it falls to retired parents on a fixed income taking out a mortgage on their home.   There are no standards for GAL charges, for tailoring fees to incomes and debts of parties, for the outer limits of GAL charges (ceilings).  Those trapped as service recipients get hammered financially. 

Why do GAL charges go off the chart?  This is an important question that should be investigated by the Judicial Branch.  Our hunch is that excessively high GAL charges are the result of GAL "mission creep", services that go beyond the statutory regulations.  Getting to know the child, obtaining and reviewing records, talking with professionals and families, and other data collection activities, along with appearing in court are not apt to generate huge fees that go beyond retainers.  It is the social service type of activity, the counseling, the mediation attempts that are riddled with GAL role conflicts of interest and that gobble up hours and raise fees. The GAL is a business and the idea behind a business is to generate revenue. For a GAL can bill with no limits and have the court force the parties involved to pay.  Restricting GALs to  statutory activities only would be a start at cutting costs.

We strongly urge that the Judicial Branch enact ceilings on GAL charges, that they mandate a financial scale for charges that takes into account  the economics of the parties and their ability to survive and to be responsible to their children, that GALs do monthly invoices, that they identify charges and that their records be available to back up charges.  We also urge that GAL "mission creep" be curtailed and statutory activities be enforced. 

There is a desperate need for consumer protection in this industry!


  1. Consumer protection from unfair GAL fees? Forget it! It is an unfair "tax" on people getting a divorce.

  2. It is a license to steal!

  3. The charges that you quote are way too low!

  4. In just about every aspect of life when you buy something you get with that item or service a bill that is itemized. The bill is broken down so that you can see what it is that you are paying for. It also means that you have the opportunity to question parts of the bill you don't understand.

    When you question a bill because you don't understand what it is that you are being asked to pay for, and you are given no answer, then there is a problem. It becomes a bigger issue when the court becomes involved and you are now told you have to pay. When that bill is forced down your throat. Would you be upset? I know I would.

    Some GAL's in the state of Maine currently produce bills that are unclear or do not make sense. Because of how a GAL conducts his/ her business there is ample opportunity for abuse. If you do not understand the GAL's bill or you don't get a bill on a regular basis then there is a problem.

  5. I wonder if part of the GAL's problem in identifying charges on invoices or bills is the uncomfortable issue of how does he/she bill for time spent in 'ex parte' communications with the judge? Er, ... I spent 5 hours giving the judge MY views on the case! Charge @ $100.00 per hour = $500.00 for corrupting judicial impartiality! Gotcha!

  6. It is the shameless abuse that goes with any unpoliced monopoly. How dare you ask!? There is always the GAL wrapping his/her secrecy about billing practices in the favorite reply: "Not in the child's best interest!" Why? "Because we say so!"

  7. Get your GAL into court and question him/her just like an expert witness. They are suppose to be able to justify whatever they write, however getting them in the court room may take a long time, especially if you are on a trailing docket, which seems to be normal for cases that involve GAL's. Keep a log book of phone calls, emails and things that happen on a day to day basis so you can refer back to them if you get into court. If you have a contract with your GAL, be specific on who pays what. If you are paying 80 percent and she is paying 20 percent, ensure that if the other party inundates the GAL with emails or other phone calls that they have to pay for their own emails and calls. Khow how the interviews will be conducted, in person or by phone. It is easy to play arm chair quarterback, but I lived this for two years and spent over 20K in GAL fees and 80 percent of those charges were for monitoring emails between his mother and I when we didn't have any PFA, Domestic Violence or Abuse ever in my case. We was not allowed to co-parent because they wanted to play big brother and monitor our communication. My GAL's were in it to make money and the best interests of my child were ignored repeatedly. His mother continues to be a prescription drug addict to this day and she has primary custody of my 4 year old child. This is not in the best interest of anyone. Ex parte communications. I call them secret squirrel meetings with the Judge, GAL and lawyers. This happened twice. My second GAL was handpicked by a Judge and that GAL lived 65 miles away from my child, this to made my fees an inordinate amount in travel fees.

    The system remains broken. Ensure that GAL's have oversight and that they are responsible for their actions like any other profession out there.

  8. What I now wonder about GALs is if there are concerns about parenting, safety, abuse, etc, why doesn't the judge just call Maine Children's Protective, which can investigate the situation at NO cost.

    1. Children's Protective might not be willing to be court informers, the judge's eyes and ears!

  9. Judges may feel that they have more control over GALs than they would with Children's Protective. GALs are created by the Judicial Branch of government; children's protective workers are under the Administrative Branch of government. Children's protective workers are on salary paid for by the state; GALs in custody cases are paid for by YOU, but they work for the judge as his "eyes and ears". In other words, they are court informers.