GAL settting involves determining the appropriate scope of the GAL’s evaluation. This includes the issues to be evaluated, the level of detail and the methods used. This scope can be influenced by the case law, statutes, court rules and the GAL’s own practice experience. The GAL should also consider the resources available in the community to address the alleged misconduct, such as alcohol or drug abuse programs.
Typically, a GAL is appointed in a contested child custody case. The GAL must evaluate the child’s best interests, and this may require addressing issues related to parental fitness, the advantages or disadvantages of a particular parenting arrangement, the existence of a de facto parentchild relationship, child abuse and neglect, paternity, and a variety of other issues.
The GAL gathers relevant information through direct interviews, collateral interviews, document reviews and observations. The GAL should interview witnesses who have knowledge of the events and facts being disputed. The GAL should compare sources of information, look for consistency and inconsistencies in reports and otherwise appraise the value of information gathered.
Where possible, the GAL seeks out original source information rather than relying on reconstructed data from other sources. For example, if a party disputed an allegation of drug abuse, the GAL would contact the party’s employer and other relevant persons who could verify or discredit the claim. The GAL would seek out hospital records and police or ambulance report that might provide more detailed information about the alleged drug use.
GALs must be aware of the limits on confidentiality and comply with legal and ethical standards concerning disclosure of privileged communications. However, the GAL should disclose in the report any information that is collected about a party or witness that does not support the GAL’s recommendations or conclusions.
The GAL communicates regularly with the parties, their attorneys, and any other interested individuals. This communication may be by phone, email or in person. The GAL must avoid using professional jargon or legalese that a party might not understand. The GAL should seek out additional means of communication if a party’s primary language is not English or there are literacy or other barriers that impact written communication.
The GAL will typically send a letter of introduction to counsel and pro se parties outlining the evaluation process. The GAL will also send copies of any papers filed by the GAL in court to all counsel and pro se parties, unless the filing is confidential. The GAL should also inform the Court of any significant changes in circumstances that could justify a modification of a judgment or any other issue impacting the children. The GAL should also inform the Court and all parties of community resources that might be available to assist the family. For example, the GAL might notify the parties of substance abuse treatment programs in their area.