Friday, August 16, 2013

Is Your Complaint Going to be Heard - Fairly?

The complaint protocol is a vitally important topic for all “grassroots consumers” of Guardian ad litem services. This is because, in a system with no oversight, no supervision, no visible enforcement of Rules and Standards for Guardians ad litem, as well as serious issues of Guardian ad litem boundary control and “mission creep”, there is a normal managerial need for “corrective action” when Guardians ad litem are malfunctioning or malpracticing. Although Judicial Branch representatives insist that there are safeguards to deal with Guardian ad litem malfunctioning, if they are used properly, we have encountered significant numbers consumers (and their lawyers), who have experienced failed attempts to use these “safeguards”. They don’t appear to work reliably in the many cases we know of. It would appear to us that a well-functioning, well designed complaint protocol is the only tool for “grassroots consumers” to obtain “corrective action” on poor Guardian ad litem performance.

Meaningful corrective action for Guardians ad litem of any sort appears totally reliant on consumes making a successful formal complaint. The Judicial Branch has no apparent regular, systemic , internal assessment tools for evaluating Guardian ad litem performance, nor is there is a standard “quality assurance” protocol for its Guardian ad litem program. The Judicial Branch therefore is in the position of relying on consumers to bring defects in individual Guardian ad litem a and in the program to the attention of “management. Complaints are about all that is available for JB managers to gain knowledge of how its Guardian ad litem program is working. Given these considerations, the complaint procedure had better work, or the Judicial Branch is effectively giving Guardians ad litem permission “to do their own thing” with no consequences! And we are back to “square one”!

A legalistic complaint procedure for Guardian ad litem performance is not a reasonable substitute for the JB having some internal standardized management responsibility for QA and for addressing on its own Guardian ad litem malfunctioning. No organization is perfect, yet the Judicial Branch has no way on its own of identifying or correcting minor or major malfunction in Guardians ad litem

As consumers of Guardian ad litem services, we have very strong objections to the concept of using the Overseers of the Bar as the locus for Guardian ad litem complaints.

Our concerns are:

1.) The nature of the Overseers of the Bar: It is a private, not for profit professional “guild” that is financially supported by its lawyer-members. It embodies the language, culture and adversarial perspective of lawyers, which is alien to most consumers (especially ‘pro se’), who might wish to make a complaint.

2.) Its apparent lack of clear lines of accountability of the Overseers to the Judicial Branch or any entity but is lawyer members. The Overseers of the Bar has no chain of command connecting it to the Judicial Branch. It is independent of the Judicial Branch, and we ask will it have regular Judicial Branch managerial review of its functioning?

3.) The inevitable, unrecognized, professional, cultural bias of a lawyers “guild” organization towards its lawyer members who finance it, is understandably intimidating to consumers with a complaint, even if represented by an attorney - more intimidating if ‘pro se’.

4.) The previous experience of the Maine public in addressing complaints about lawyers to the Overseers is not encouraging that their new complaint process will be any more “consumer friendly”. Any new complaint procedure, as a minimum, must have clear written instructions in how to make a complaint, a written explanation of what constitutes a proper complaint, guidance on the steps in the process and people who can answer questions about process and procedure.

5.) We question whether an adversarial model is one designed to correct and repair individual Guardians ad litem or a Guardian ad litem systems problems. It distorts the question of basic internal management, and squeezes it into a legal conceptual framework. Prove we made a mistake vs how can we improve the quality of this person’s work and improve the program quality? It is a defensive posture as opposed to a corrective posture.

6.) Use of the Overseers is a very cumbersome way of addressing “quality control” issue in the Guardian ad litem program. It passes the buck for correcting problems to consumers and eliminates the JB from addressing corrective interventions with court officials to the consumer. The JB selects them and trains them, but assumes no regular formal management responsibility after that.

7.) A limited numbers of Guardian ad litem complaints should in no way be taken as a signal that the Guardian ad litem program is nearly "perfect".  It should be read as a condemnation of the complaint process that is cumbersome and user unfriendly that deters consumer "feedback".  It should also be read as a sign of consumer fear of reprisal from a system that doesn't want "correction" from grass-roots sources.

8.) Our final concern is that we have heard constitutional questions raised by the apparent “out sourcing” of its complaint requirement by the Judicial Branch to a non-governmental agency. Can the Judicial Branch pass its oversight powers to a private, not-for-profit agency?

Finally, we would maintain that consumer input is badly needed by Family Courts in their work and in whatever changes they make. A professional, elite, top down conceptual ‘modus operandi’ can easily get out of touch or at cross-purposes with those who use the service. Being out of touch exposes the courts to bad feeling, bad results and myriad misunderstandings with those who use (and pay for and vote for) their service. As you are undoubtedly aware, there is widespread disaffection with the Family Court system in Maine at the present which has led to .the passage of 2013 C 406, a comprehensive reform of Maine’s Guardian ad litem - program, the first in 39 years. The law is not perfect, but it is a beginning, and as such we stand behind it. Our remarks above are intended as a respectful expression from the grass roots to those charged with implementing the law. We have tried to be respectful but frank in expressing a few qualms. Whether you realize it or not, you need to know what consumers of your family court services are thinking about implementation of the law. We stand ready to help Maine’s children and families- and the Family Courts- in whatever way we can.

We encourage you to comment here or on Facebook. Please contact us at for support.


  1. As a parent who recently went through the process of utilizing a GAL I can honestly say that it was more confusing than helpfull. The end result was that I spent $3000.00 for my children to end up in the same situation they were in prior to the GALs appointment. The difference is that now my ex wife is responsible for even less than she used to be while enjoying far greater flexibility in her contact schedule. To make matters worse, the GAL we used added a clause in her contract and court documents locking me into using her services in any future FM issues.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I think the majority of people here would echo your sentiments on the GAL role being more confusing than helpful. My personal experience was such that I still have no idea what the GAL did if anything. Yet I ended up with a bill that I can ill afford. The GAL tried to embed in the divorce decree her bill which would have allowed her to use the court to collect as opposed to going through a collection process.

    I am curious about having to use the GAL in the future. Should you see this comment I would ask that you please email me at Thank you again.