Friday, June 28, 2013

LD872 An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine

Has passed and is waiting to be signed into law by Governor Paul LePage

For the first time in almost 40 years there is going to be some measure of oversight of Guardians ad litem in the state of Maine. Since the late 90's bills have been sponsored that have strengthened the hand of Guardians ad litem. This often came at the expense of families and ultimately the children these 'professionals' were helping. With no oversight, accountability or management Guardians ad litem have become free spirits and operated outside of the boundaries of their original role.

In 2013 with the help of Sen David Dutremble and Rep Lisa Villa - bills were sponsored that attempted to correct the imbalance that had taken over. Out of four bills LD872 survived.

Today we are on the verge of having some measure of oversight. Where hard data on what is going on with Guardians ad litem will be generated and used instead of stuffed away in the card board boxes the system currently uses.

Please thank Sen David Dutremble, Rep Lisa Villa and the Judiciary Committee for all of the hard work and personal sacrifice that has been given to make this happen.

Sen. David Dutremble can be reached at:
Rep. Lisa Villa can be reached at:

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

What do we mean by Guardian ad litem "oversight"?

In the simplest terms, oversight means knowing what they do, how they spend their time. At the present no one in authority  actually knows the full details. No one in the higher levels of the Judicial Branch has a complete picture of "time spent" on your case, my case, the hundreds of cases that pass through Maine's family courts. No authority knows how many cases a Guardian ad litem is handling, which courts/judges use the most Guardians ad litem. Or what is the grand total amount of every rostered Guardian ad litem's billable hours for, say, the month of May? No one knows.  There is no oversight.

In a word, no one has administrative or managerial oversight of Maine's Guardian ad litem program. No one has program numbers. And ... without numbers, data, statistics, it is impossible to describe the scope and size of Guardian ad litem program problems rationally.  It is impossible, to have a rational conversation between the public and various branches of government and impossible to seek rational solutions to a program that cries out for "oversight".

We would suggest that there are two kinds of "oversight", (a) oversight of ongoing cases in a divorce, which is sometimes called "case supervision", and (b) programmatic oversight, also called "programmatic administration or management".   Supervision, though desirable is costly and would require a large, expensive cadre of supervisors to monitor and correct the work of Guardians ad litem.  There is also the question of who would supervise the supervisors?  Where would they fit in a bureaucratic chain of command?

To keep the complexities of an  first-ever, Maine, oversight program relatively simple at the start, LD 872 has focused on program supervision, administrative supervision.  Essentially it seeks answers to the questions about: "What are the numbers?" How is Guardian ad litem time spent?  What are the billable hours?  How do district courts differ in their use of Guardians ad litem? And ... are there significant differences in the profiles of individual Guardian ad litem activities?  These are questions of huge interest to Maine children and families who pay dearly for this program.

UNIT OF MEASUREMENT THE Guardian ad litem's BILL:  LD 872 already calls for standardization of all Maine Guardian ad litem's bills.  Bills should be done monthly and should follow the itemization format used by lawyers: date, type of service, time spent, fee charged.  It would cover such topics as reading e-mails, phone conversations, report writing, time spent with parties, time spent with child, collateral contacts, travel, court appearances, etc.  We maintain that a standardized bill is a snapshot of what the Guardian ad litem claims to have done in any given month.  It is a work activity profile.  It is a record.  It will be mandatory.  There is minimal cost for this change.

COPIES OF ALL Guardian ad litem BILLS TO ADMINISTRATOR OF COURTS:  We are strongly recommending that it should also be mandatory for all 280  rostered Maine Guardians ad litem to send electronic copies of their standardized monthly bills to the Administrators of the Courts at no charge to anyone.  It would immediately, for the first time give the Judicial Branch massive amounts of hard, Guardian ad litem program  data, which is currently totally lacking.  It would give the necessary data for  first-ever program oversight of Maine's 280 Guardians ad litem.  It should prove interesting and useful to the legislature, the public and the Judicial Branch.  It will help to guide beneficial program changes for Maine's Guardian ad litem program.  It will be capable of answering many important program questions.

OVERSIGHT QUESTIONS FOR NEW Guardian ad litem DATA: We believe that inasmuch as the proposed oversight data is a tool, the Judicial Branch should have a primary interest in deciding how to use this new tool.  They should suggest their own questions for which they want answers from the data.

But in addition to the Judicial Branch we have our own questions too.

OUR QUESTIONS:  How many Guardians ad litem are at work in Maine courts each month?  How many separate cases are Guardians ad litem carrying?  How much time is spent in reading e-mails?  Doing reports?  Making phone calls?  Seeing the child in the case?  Travel?  Court time?  Which courts use Guardians ad litem the most?  How do Guardian ad litem activity profiles differ?  What is the range of monthly billable hours for Guardians ad litem?  What is the total amount for all Guardian ad litem bills in each month?  In a year?  Are there associations between certain Guardians ad litem, certain lawyers and/or certain judges?

This is for starters, as a "warm-up".

WHO WOULD WORK WITH THIS DATA AND COSTING THIS ACTIVITY?  We suggest that the Administrator of the courts would be the proper locus for this activity, and that it should be attached to the component already doing administrative statistics.  By our reckoning the costs ought to be minimal.  Billing is already being done by Guardians ad litem at no cost to the legislature, changing to a standardized billing format should not add to cost.  Sending an electronic  copy of all monthly Guardian ad litem's bills to the Judicial Branch should be a no cost event.  There is the need for a clerk to organize the data in such a manner as to answer previously defined questions.  There is the need for an existing administrative statistician to provide supervision and direction.

We would suggest that all of this could be done for $75,000.00 or less, including overhead.  The $200,000.00 fiscal estimate currently attached to this bill for unspecified oversight functions seems expensive.  We offer a competitive idea.

For more information on Guardian ad litem reform please contact us at or like us on Facebook for up to date information. In addition Me GAL alert is conducting an informal survey on the cost and performance of Guardians ad litem. If you have 5 minutes we would encourage you to take one or both surveys. The data collected is being published and will be updated live in the future.

Guardian ad litem Cost Survey

Guardian ad litem Performance Survey

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lets use a Surrogate Father - recommended the Guardian ad litem

Is the reality that GALs live in different than everyone else?

Back in March of this year we published the story of a parent whose child was forced to spend a weekend with a Guardian ad litem. This was to be just the child and Guardian ad litem who was at the time 60 years old. It was a story that showed how wrong the present situation is and has been. March 28 parents were told by the divorce industry that the system we have is better than nothing. Is it really?

Today we have another example of a Guardian ad litem whose judgment is questionable. Where the thought process lacks any common sense and the idea that this was accepted by the presiding Judge without the thought of questioning the Guardian ad litem.

The Guardian ad litem for this case is one of the most senior and respected Guardians ad litem in the state – making the story that much worse.

The child lived with his mother as the father lived out of state some 1000 miles away and had little to do with his son for most of his life. The divorce then custody changed this as the father had renewed interest in his child. Because the child had little contact with his father in many years the Guardian ad litem thought a reintroduction of father and son was in order. Now remember the father lived about 1000 miles away making reunification visits impossible. As a Guardian ad litem and officer of the court the specialized training that is involved gives powers that we as parents lack (sarcasm here). Why else would this senior Guardian ad litem with years of training suggested that a surrogate father take the place of the father?

That is correct – the Guardian ad litem suggested and forced the child to go through the reintroduction with the surrogate father. To add to the creepy factor. This was done in a parking lot with the boy and 'father' alone in a car for the prescribed time that the Guardian ad litem felt necessary. The mother was allowed to be at the same parking lot but at some distance from this reunification therapy. While the Guardian ad litem thought this was a great idea and he probably thought he was doing a good thing the opposite happened. The mother was by all rights upset and out raged with this arrangement and complained, and complained loudly. What did this do? Well for those of you who operate within the realm of common sense – nothing – despite what you may think. It did escalate the conflict and tension in this custody dispute.

Stories like this scream as to why Guardians ad litem and the Divorce Industry left to their own devices for so long have corrupted a system and themselves. How can anyone believe that this kind behavior within our court system would be deemed acceptable and professional? Yet there are many parents that become trapped – trying to correct what is so wrong but finding themselves confronted by an uncaring system.

On March 28 2013 we heard that “the system we have is better than nothing, so we support that system – regardless of the many flaws – because its all that we can afford” - the question we must ask is if we really can afford the many problems of our current system? Can we afford to continue to hurt families and children because we cannot afford to do better? Can we afford to allow the Divorce Industry and Guardians ad litem to continue to fly under the radar?

Please contact us at or find us on Facebook for up to date information.

Happy Surrogate Fathers Day!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"This GALs is the best" - An open letter to a Lawyer about representing a clients needs

When a large bureaucratic system is broken, with no management oversight and disdain for "users" of the system, it has a corrupting effect on everyone who must work in or use the system.

Many of our friends have commented with puzzlement about the weakness of their lawyer's defense of their divorce and custody issues. Some divorce lawyers talk a good game to clients in the office or on the phone, but wilt in court. There seems to be an effort to avoid ruffling the feathers of the GAL- or worse- the judge. Most clients expect that an expensive attorney will defend their case vigorously. It is confusing at first for clients to see the lawyer shift roles from "office superman" to "courtroom wimp". Gradually, many clients will recognize that there is something wrong with this picture.

There is frequently only a behavioral acknowledgment by your lawyer that he is working in a corrupt, totalitarian, insensitive and often illogical system. Lawyerly courage in defending your case will not be rewarded by the court, and a brave lawyer's future practice in that court is apt to be very dim. But the role shift from "superman" to "wimp" is so puzzling- so contrary to what we expect, that it may take a while to recognize and to overcome our denial ("this can't be happening").

The intent of sharing this letter, from which identities have been removed as much as possible, is not to condemn a particular lawyer's lack of courage and avoidance of conflict in court. It is an attempt to analyze further, why the family court system does not work for many families. There are those in the Judicial Branch, who say that the current system works if you just use it properly. This is true in theory, on paper, but ... there is widespread recognition by lawyers that they are tip-toeing through a "minefield" when they challenge a Guardian ad litem in front of a judge. It is about challenging judicial outsourcing- challenging a Guardian ad litem as the judge's deputy. Guardians ad litem as "junior judges, isn't on the books, but it is no less real.

It is this unspoken, behavioral acknowledgment, this awareness of professional danger that is more powerful that the rules on paper. A lawyer SHOULD be able to challenge a Guardian ad litem. However, there are enough who don't, because of professional fear of the consequences of a challenge. We think that the problem derives from the GAL's relationship to the judge. If the Guardian ad litem were only representing the child, it might make challenges easier.

Lawyerly fear is as powerful a determining factor, which limits Guardian ad litem challenges, as are the rules which say it is possible to challenge!

Here is an example:

Subject: Letter to a divorce lawyer

Divorce Attorney, Esq

Dear Attorney,

I have been copied on your response to your client's e-mail, and I am offering my own reactions to it. In it in you are effectively blaming your client for "misunderstanding"- what I would see as your complete disregard of his recent written requests to you about handling his GAL's bill. In two e-mails he asked (1) that you take no further action on the matter of his GAL's outrageous bill without first informing him of your plans, and (2) that you include, as an addendum, his memo to you proposing what he wants to see: (a) a cap on the bill, and (b) a series of very detailed reasons why the bill is problematic in its entirety. You have ignored both of his written requests on this matter. Furthermore, you have offered no reasons for your disregard.

It is very disturbing for all of us to witness this m.o., and it is not for the first time. It raises questions about your execution of your client's wishes, and also what you are doing and what are your aims? Perhaps, mistakenly, you feel you know better than your client what he wants or what he can achieve? Or ... does a failure to discuss the issues in advance with your client, allow you greater freedom of action to avoid personal professional awkwardness with the other players? Whose interest is served by this m.o.; yours or your client's?

You may recall that we had a number of, at first vaguely-formed, questions from the onset of the whole GAL adventure. At the beginning of the divorce. Initially, we knew little about GALs and the GAL process, so like any novices entering this arena we relied on you, as an experienced lawyer to inform us. As time went on, we increasingly wondered with alarm about how you were handling the GAL and your aims- if any? It lead us in desperation to hire another attorney to sort things out. The contrast between this attorney, a former GAL, and you in dealing with the GAL, was "night and day". No longer was it necessary to deny the reality of gross incompetence, harmful decisions and flagrant crookedness on the part of the GAL. But now that his attorney is out of the picture, there appears to be a reversion to your earlier policy of near total accommodation to the GAL.

Let me raise a few direct questions that have made us all very uneasy for a long time about how you are handling things:

1.) "This GAL is the best!" was your unequivocal endorsement at our first meeting with you in your office, where we addressed our puzzlement about the need for a GAL in this case. At that time, we never questioned the basis for your endorsement. But as time went on, and the GAL showed her colors, we asked ourselves: "How did you know? Had you used her in your professional work before? Were you acquainted with her in more personal terms, as a client or as the relative of a client? What did "best"mean? Informed consent in agreeing to the GAL process is important, and we assumed you were helping us to take that step. Had you some professional basis for your endorsement of this GAL when you told us she was "the best"? What basis?

2.) More recently you have altered your endorsement to: "I've never seen her act this way before." The inference might be from this observation that it's the our family that brings out her crookedness; it's situational. You have never told any of us at any time during this process, exactly how you, as a lawyer, evaluate her performance as a GAL. Is she top shelf or substandard? Yes, you have reluctantly moved on the Motion to Remove, but only after extreme pressure, and after including- without my permission- a strong, confidential memo from me to the Social Work Board that should never have been a part of the motion, a signal to the GAL (it's really just our family). Do you currently think that she is OK, or a menace to the public? Would you endorse her to future clients? Why did you table our detailed formal critique, a thoughtful response to the glaring deficiencies and errors in her final GAL report? In so doing you protected her from fire, but it wasn't in your client's interest. It is this sort of thing that makes us feel that you are not really on our team.

3.) Increasingly, our family has wondered about whether there is some latent or actual conflict of interest of some kind that underlies your kid gloves approach to the GAL. Do you or your firm currently have (or have you had) other business with her or members of her family? Have members of your family had involvement with her- clinical or otherwise? On every opportunity when there is a need to confront her poor judgment with actual evidence, you seem to write a stern letter, then dodge or back off, effectively making the GAL the deciding judge in you client's affairs. It has been a disturbing pattern. Our lawyer consultant demonstrated that total surrender to this GAL wasn't necessary to relate in a professionally respectable manner to a GAL. Is there a conflict?

4.) Your current plan for a 1/2 hour meeting in court to resolve the matter of the GAL's bill is an example of what we are talking about. Given the limited time you are requesting and with no prior list of justifying reasons for why the bill is outrageous, you are passing the decision to the GAL, the opposing attorney and the Judge. We've seen this program before, and it has always been a very bad one whatever happens in the privacy of a phone conference or in judges chambers with no client witnessing the actions, your negotiations are dismal. We invariably lose. In terms of the child's final custody decision. In the divorce decree, you have actually managed to negotiate less time for the child with his father than they had before the divorce! It is hard to understand how you could negotiate less or why.

5.) I would suggest to your client that he ask you to withdraw your request for a hearing on the GAL's bill. Immediately. You have no endorsement for the present action from your client. For things to proceed on this matter, you need your client's endorsement, you need a written financial proposal to the court that your client agrees to, you need a list of deficiencies in the bill distributed in advance with the hearing request, and for that it is obvious that you need more than 1/2 hour. It also needs to take place in the courtroom, not in the privacy of chambers, so that your client can watch your actions and guide you in what he will accept. You also need to be prepared to decline to compromise on unfair settlements. Let the judge decide if he is inclined to be punitive.

This is a very difficult letter, long over due. You might ask from our list of dissatisfactions why we continue with you? We have asked ourselves the same question many times. Our answer is that at this point, we feel totally trapped. You have all of the records of the case, we cannot begin afresh and bring a newcomer up to speed, nor can we afford a new retainer. We are stuck. As a way out of our mutual dilemma, I would ask that you consult with our consulting attorney on the GAL's bill and how she would resolve it. And proceed accordingly. your client cannot afford the GAL's bill. It will cripple his ability to provide for his son (and himself). It needs strong action


Involved Family Member
(On behalf of the parent)