A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a court-appointed, independent professional who participates in cases on behalf of minor children or someone considered legally incompetent. The Massachusetts Juvenile Court Administrative Office (AOJC) creates the requirements for applicants in all court divisions and determines who is eligible to become a GAL.
Guardians Ad Litem in Massachusetts
A guardian ad litem, or "next friend," is an individual appointed by a court in cases involving minor children or incapacitated adults. Their job is to act in that person's best interest while objectively investigating, evaluating and providing judgment in the case.
GALs serve in a variety of ways. For example, in high-conflict child custody cases in which divorcing parents cannot agree on a plan for their children, the GAL will likely be an attorney.
In cases where one or both parents cannot provide safe and effective guidance for a child, the GAL may be an evaluator like a social worker or someone with a background in mental health. In probate cases, the GAL may research and review finances on behalf of a minor or incapacitated adult.
GAL Requirements in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
GAL requirements differ depending on the type of case. For those in need of special medical treatment, the GAL must be an attorney in good standing with the state bar and have five years of experience in child welfare protective cases or representing adults in matters of medical care.
A GAL acting as a treatment monitor must also be an attorney, but with just three years of experience in child welfare protective cases or representing adults in matters of medical care. They must also be in good standing with the state bar.
Additional GAL Requirements for Different Cases
If the GAL is a legal rights advisor, they must be an attorney in good standing with the Massachusetts Bar and have three years of experience in child welfare protection cases or youthful offender cases.
A GAL acting as an education surrogate must be a Massachusetts Bar member in good standing with three years of experience representing children in education, or someone who has obtained (or is willing to obtain) enough knowledge in special education or in an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
A diminished capacity GAL is appointed by the request of an attorney representing an adult party who the court determines is unable to assist that attorney in the preparation or presentation of their case. This GAL must have at least a Masters degree and hold a state license in social work, counseling psychology or clinical psychology. Finally, a GAL acting as an evaluator must have one of these qualifications:
- Master's degree or higher with a state license in social work or counseling in clinical psychology.
- At least three years of experience as a registered nurse in child welfare protective cases.
- At least five years of experience as an attorney in child welfare protective cases and be in good standing with the state bar.
Applying to Be a GAL
All individuals qualified by the AOJC for appointment as a GAL must take part in six hours of continuing legal education each year. The AOJC approves these education programs and can authorize specific programs as mandatory at any time.
A GAL must provide certification of their completed legal education to the agency by June 30th of each year. Failure to do so can result in the individual losing eligibility for further appointments.
GAL applicants must submit these items to the AOJC:
- Letter of interest with their qualifications.
- Completed Application to the Juvenile Court Department for Appointment as guardian ad litem noting the categories and divisions in which they seek appointments.
- Current resume with their experience and relevant educational training.
- Three references.
- Notarized Consent to Criminal Offender Record Information Check.
GAL Length of Eligibility
Qualified GAL applicants will be eligible to receive appointments in a division for five years, beginning when they receive the AOJC's approval. At the end of those five years, individuals wishing to continue receiving GAL appointments must reapply under the same process. All approved applicants are subject to probation for failure to comply with the AOJC guidelines.
The First Justices of all divisions in which the applicant previously accepted appointments will consult during the current application process on a GAL's past performance and the quality of their written reports.
Placing a GAL on Probation
An applicant who has met the AOJC's qualifications for a GAL appointment but has submitted unsatisfactory reports or whose work has been deemed inadequate in the past may receive probation by a First Justice.
A GAL can also be placed on probation during the five-year period they serve if they fail to comply with the Juvenile Court's requirements.
GAL Investigation Costs in Massachusetts
There is no fixed cost for a GAL investigation or evaluation. It differs from case to case and is typically between $3,000 and $20,000, but it can be even more.
When the court appoints a probation officer to investigate a case, Massachusetts pays for that officer; if it appoints a GAL, the court decides who pays for the investigations. In some instances, parents may split the cost, while one parent may pay for the GAL in other cases.
If a parent cannot afford a GAL, they can ask the court to require the state to pay for one. A parent who pays for a GAL does not control the investigation. The GAL is in place to retrieve information and offer a fair recommendation on the best actions for the child or the incapacitated individual.
- Mass.gov: Uniform Practice and Procedure Regarding the Appointment of Guardians ad Litem
- Mass.gov: Application to the Juvenile Court Department for Appointment as Guardian Ad Litem
- Mass.gov: Consent to Criminal Offender Record Information Check
- Skyler Law: Guardian Ad Litem Services
- Mass Legal Help: Probate and Family Court Investigations
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.