Divorce, even in the most amicable situations, can be difficult for children. When divorce is not so amicable, and courts get involved, this can add to the stress of the situation. A courtroom environment can intimidate children old enough to understand the proceedings and overwhelm children too young to grasp exactly why they are there. Luckily, there are a variety of legally recognized advocates for children available in Massachusetts courts: a guardian ad litem, an attorney-representing-children, and a court-appointed parenting coordinator.
1. Guardian Ad Litem
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an individual appointed by the court to investigate, report and at times make recommendations as to matters of custody, parenting time; and requests for in-state and out of state removal relative to the parties’ children. A guardian ad litem may be a licensed mental health professional with a focus on working with divorcing couples and their children, or may also be an attorney who has undergone additional training to work with children and their families. A guardian ad litem interviews the children, their parents, and other collaterals, such as medical providers, teachers and other individuals with first hand knowledge of the issues presented to determine what is in the children’s best interest. The GAL will then present these findings in a written report to the court.
In a divorce, either party or both parties may request the involvement of a GAL, or the court may order the appointment of one to determine the children’s best interest. The cost of a GAL may be shared equally by the parties or paid by one party subject to reallocation following trial. Where cost is a concern and the need is urgent, the Commonwealth may appoint a guardian ad litem To be paid by the Commonwealth.
2. Attorney Representing Children
A guardian ad litem seeks to present Facts in his slash her report which will assist the court in making a determination as to what is in the best interest of children. If requested in the court’s appointment, a GAL may also include recommendations as to the matters at issue.
However, what is determined to be in the best interest for children and what children want are often not the same thing.
Acknowledging this, Massachusetts courts also recognize the role of an attorney representing children (ARC) in family law proceedings. The ARC role is filled by an attorney who has undergone additional training and volunteered his or her time and expertise to the court.
Like a GAL, either or both parents may request the involvement of an ARC or a judge may appoint one based on his or her own discretion. Unlike a GAL, the role of an attorney representing children is to present what a child or children want in a custody agreement between the parents. When children are too young to understand the process or vocalize their wants, an ARC may, with court permission, submit “substituted judgement” of what the child wants, as the attorney can best discern.
3. Parenting Coordinator
A parenting coordinator, like a guardian ad litem, may be either an attorney or a licensed mental health professional. For each type of professional, Massachusetts law stipulates additional educational requirements and mandates yearly continuing education.
A parenting coordinator works directly with parents in order to attempt to resolve child-related issues. The parties may mutually agree upon the use of a parenting coordinator, or in some instances, the court may enter an order appointing a parenting coordinator in matters in which custody and/or parenting time of a child or children is at issue and the court determines that the level of conflict between the parties so warrants.
In deciding how best to chart a future for your children as you undergo divorce, you need a knowledgeable and experienced ally. Our office can help you decide which sort of additional advocate best serves your family’s needs. Call today to set up a consultation.