“Many concerns have been raised about the use of guardians ad litem…most complaints are connected with guardian activities in family court cases, primarily in contested divorce actions. Complaints have focused on guardian bias towards either women or men, lack of oversight and accountability, inadequate training, inappropriate communication between guardians and judges, and other inappropriate behavior...”- Evaluation Report, Guardians ad Litem, 1995: MN.
Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program has a long history of problems and complaints regarding systemic failures, lack of accountability and improper conduct by Guardians. In many cases, GAL program is contributing to the escalation of familial conflict, and directly placing the lives of children at risk.
The public is largely unaware of the problems existing in the GAL program because 1) there is an overall lack of transparency as well as a lack of accountability and 2) many parents negatively impacted by the GAL program do not speak out for fear of reprisal or, do not feel their concerns are being heard. The State GAL Board has recently revised its complaint procedure for parents to file a complaint against a GAL but even with new measures, complaints rarely result in findings of misconduct, even when evidence is presented. Complaints against Guardians are never made public and instead, are kept internally within the program – with no independent audit or oversight.
To give you an idea on the severity of the problem, here are a few recent complaints from parents currently involved in family court, who have been appointed a GAL:
Parent #1: “The recommendation by the GAL that my ex-husband have custody of our daughters nearly killed my youngest daughter last year… The whole GAL program failed my daughters, and it failed me. The GAL put my daughters through traumatizing situations, and there are witnesses. Despite all of my efforts to express my concerns, I never saw a single example of accountability on the part of the Program Manager (when I filed complaints). The GAL continued to provide false information in her reports to the court. Consequently, the Judge’s decisions were made on false and biased GAL reports, with no functional accountability. My case has been going on since 2003…my children have spent their entire childhood involved in litigation.”
Parent #2: “My family became homeless as a result of domestic violence. My child was so traumatized by abuse and homelessness that he suffered serious emotional and behavioral problems. The GAL recommended sole custody be given to the abuser. After being forced to live with the abuser my child wrote a note to me that said he wanted to be dead. I was punished for reporting concerns of abuse, and told by the GAL my fear of the abuser is more harmful to my children than the abuse itself. 10 years later, I am still involved in active litigation, and my children continue to struggle. My child was once happy and popular with friends, has been suspended from school 3 times this year, and is being recommended for psychotropic medications to treat ‘anxiety’… When my child is with me, there are no problems. I believe my child is struggling due to the effects of abuse and trauma. My child does not need medication, she needs to be protected from abuse.”
Parent 3#: “There was an order for protection against my ex boyfriend when he was given custody of my child. He has a criminal record including felonies, and his former partner filed for an OFP against him. My daughter was taken on the grounds of me being “to smothering” meaning I give her too much love and attention, and that I would not agree to “corporal” punishment. After my ex was given custody, I expressed concerns that my daughter made comments about being physically abused. I was told by the Guardian ad Litem that she would not take these reports serious, even though they were documented, including by CPS. I am being punished for reporting abuse. The GAL restricted my time with my child to once a week for 2 hours, in supervised visits. Since being placed with the abuser, my child has severely regressed. I am now going to the appeals court in my fight to maintain a relationship with my child, and to protect her from abuse.”
Complaints are being reported from parents from every part of Minnesota, every culture, every socio-economic background, both male and female. There are complaints from parents in active litigation as well as older, documented complaints, going as far back as 1997. The size and scope of complaints demonstrates how pervasive problems in Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem Program are.
The GAL program receives public funding and serves a public interest; as such it must be held accountable to the public it serves. Further, the guardian ad litem role is defined by statute, (518.165) and guardians operating outside the statute are not provided immunity.
Other states have made efforts towards GAL reform. In Maine Governor Paul LePage signed into law comprehensive reform measures for family court GALs. Sen. Dutremble, also from Maine, was supported the new law following his own experience with a GAL, which he said was “one of the worst experiences of my life.” And in April 2014,both houses of Connecticut’s legislature unanimously approved a bill to reform the GAL program that included improved accountability, and better training.
Minnesota has begun its efforts to improve the GAL program with the audit and resulting recommendations (1995) and in August 2015 the State GAL Board has implemented changes to its complaint procedure. Yet there is still much work to be done.
Reform is in the best interest of families, and in the best interest of the GAL program as a whole. The Guardian ad Litem program was created to protect, advocate and give a voice to children who are at risk for abuse or endangerment; it is a necessary program that, when used properly, truly does work for the best interest of children.
We Need ACTION and NOW IS THE TIME
Be part of the movement for change! The safety and well being of our children is our number one priority! Join “A Call to Action ~ Together We Are Stronger” to take part in our growing movement to reform Minnesota’s GAL and family court system.
Email “Call to Action” at pakcomments @ live dot com for information on how you can join, updates and events. Please put “A Call to Action” in the header. Updates will also be included on this blog.
“Separated from Their Kids, Parents Unite Against One Court Guardian” (City Pages, Susan Du, 2/18/2015): Separated From Their Kids, Parents Unite Against One Court Guardian
“Office of the Legislative Auditor, State of Minnesota, Evaluation Report, Guardian ad Litem, Feb. 1995”: 1995 Guardian ad Litem Audit
A Call to Action: Proposed Reform Ideas, Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Program- Proposed Reform: Guardian ad Litem Program/
Governor Signs Guardian ad Litem Bill (Maine, July 2013): Governor signs guardian ad litem bill