SEE here ONLY on A Call to Action Blog – A case history was intentionally deleted from the Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem webpage (in 2015) AFTER Suzanne Alliegro, State Program Administrator, was questioned about the actions of the GAL in this case by a concerned citizen.
The tragic results of this Guardian’s reckless disregard for the safety of the children, and dismissal of abuse allegations, resulted in a fit, loving parent losing custody to an abuser and then becoming estranged from the lives of her children. And if that is not bad enough, this case is proudly placed on the web page of the Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board as a success story. This case illustrates the serious need for investigation of the troubled GAL program, an audit could not come soon enough: Breaking News: MN Guardian ad Litem Program to be Audited
The attitude of the GAL assigned to this family court case has placed the lives of these children at a higher risk of harm than if the children had stayed in the abuse, and the family never entered family court in the first place. The risk of harm is higher because the legal system is now enabling the abuser, has stripped the protective parent of her rights – and effectively denied her any legal avenue to remedy the great injustice perpetrated against her, and the children. Children who had once been removed from an abusive, dysfunctional home for their safety would be put back into the abuse by court order. The children would likely be re-traumatized, and continued to be exposed to substantial harm. It is appalling that a GAL would say this is in the “best interest” of the children.
In part two of this article you will see evidence that when a concerned citizen raised questions about the GAL’s handling of this case to State Program Administrator, Suzanne Alliegro, the case history was quickly removed from the website and replaced with other stories. Is the Minnesota GAL Board engaging in a cover up of program failures that has placed the lives of children at risk?
When taking a deeper look at this case history, the misconduct and reckless disregard for the well-being of children committed by this GAL become obvious. While it would be easy to find fault with the GAL alone, the management (State GAL Board, District Manager) also needs to take responsibility for their role in this case – that the Board condones this kind of behavior, and sees it as model for exemplary conduct by a GAL, is frightening.
FULL TEXT: Change of Custody to Father
- A GAL had been appointed for two pre-teen girls in a marriage dissolution case where there had been some domestic abuse between the parents. Throughout the case, the GAL grew increasingly concerned about the mother’s mental health. The mother demonstrated increased paranoia and made multiple allegations against the father. Eventually, the GAL recommended a change in custody to the father with the mother having supervised parenting time. The children began to stabilize when they were placed in their father’s care. The mother continued to struggle with mental health issues and did not keep the supervised visits. The involvement of the GAL helped bring the case to resolution and provided the court with much-needed information regarding the best interests of the children.
In family court cases involving allegations that a child is a victim to domestic violence, neglect or abuse the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem is mandatory due to safety concerns. The role of the GAL includes investigating the facts of the case (which include abuse allegations) and representing the child’s best interests in court proceedings 518.165 GUARDIANS AD LITEM FOR MINOR CHILDREN.
In this case it is reported that there quote “had been some domestic abuse between the parents.” The use of the word “some” in this report minimizes the impact violence has had on the children, and the family. Examine the statement carefully -what does “some domestic abuse” mean? The harmful effects of domestic violence has on a child is NOT determined by a number alone. The word “some” does not account for the trauma and toxic stressors, and other consequences of domestic violence, that will cause damage to a child at any level of exposure. Exposure to domestic violence also puts children at a much higher risk of experiencing child abuse or neglect. There is no “some” – domestic violence happened, period. Domestic violence is the reason why a GAL was appointed to this case; unfortunately for these children things were about to get much worse.
The second error in this statement is the phrase “domestic abuse between the parents.“ The lack of domestic violence training the GAL program offers is evident in this appallingly ignorant statement. Domestic violence is NOT mutual but rather involves an intentional, and systemic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one person (the abuser) over another (the victim). Abuse can take many forms including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial and using the children as a weapon against the other parent after separation, which is called Domestic Violence (DV) by Proxy. DV by Proxy means the children are used as leverage to gain power and control over the victim the abuser no longer has access to, or children are used to hurt or retaliate against the victim. DV by Proxy often includes forms of legal abuse, including the abuser filing for sole custody or filing frivolous lawsuits or making false allegations to incite legal action against the victim. The way this statement is phrased implies the victim is complicit in the abuse or somehow is at fault for the abuse. It is important to analyze what the GAL is thinking (I assume the statement was taken from the GAL’s files or notes) in order to understand what happened next and how the role of the GAL impacted this case.
The GAL completely fails to recognize the existence of domestic violence, and how it manifests, and instead of protecting the children involved, begins to target the mother who is trying to keep the children safe from abuse. ALL of this is being admitted publicly, on the State GAL Board website,”Throughout the case, the GAL grew increasingly concerned about the mother’s mental health. The mother demonstrated increased paranoia and made multiple allegations against the father.” Note the GAL is more concerned about the mother’s mental health than the safety and well being of two vulnerable pre-teen girls. If the GAL did have concerns about the mother’s mental health the context of domestic violence should be considered… it is NOT paranoid to be afraid, anxious or apprehensive when dealing with, and being forced to co-parent with, an abuser. That is an understandable reaction to the violence that has happened in the relationship.
Second, abuse itself creates a number of adverse effects – that does not mean a victim is mentally ill or unfit to parent. The greater concern should be on the risk of violence, and the safety of the children. Instead of blaming the victim, the abuser should be held accountable for his own actions. But that is not what happened here. The GAL accuses the mother, who is the victim, of “paranoia” after she “made multiple allegations” (of abuse or safety concerns). You can imagine how terrified the mother would likely be having experienced abuse, and that her children may have been abused – to now be faced with a GAL who refuses to investigate and is punishing her for reporting abuse. As a mandated reporter, the GAL should have filed a report of those allegations with CPS or a supervisor, and NOT have labeled the mother as “mentally ill”.
The GAL then uses the “multiple allegations” raised to justify stripping the mother of custody and sending the teen girls to go live with an abuser, “Eventually, the GAL recommended a change in custody to the father with the mother having supervised parenting time.” The abuser now goes free, and the victim is being punished for trying to protect her children.
Remember a family history of “domestic abuse” was noted; meaning it has already been established that the children have been put at risk or have been harmed. The GAL was appointed to the case to deal with abuse issues but instead pursued a mental health witch hunt against the protective parent… leaving the children totally vulnerable, and placing them in harm’s way. This is unacceptable. In California there are state laws that offer protection to parents who have concerns of child abuse or neglect and make a report of abuse – filing a complaint or notifying an authority is not grounds alone to remove custody. The same laws should be enacted in Minnesota.
The madness continues when the Case History includes this comment: “The children began to stabilize when they were placed in their father’s care.” An abuser gaining total power and control over a victim is not stabilization. Also, there is no factual information or evidence to support this statement is even true. All we have to go on is the GAL’s word, and that has already proven to be unreliable.
The teen girls soon become estranged from their mother,” The mother continued to struggle with mental health issues and did not keep the supervised visits.” Any parent who has their children forcefully removed from their care and placed into an unsafe situation would struggle. The only one demonstrating “mental health issues” in this whole story is the GAL, and the GAL management that refuses to acknowledge any problems with this scenario. That the mother “did not keep the supervised visits” does not mean she did not want to see her children or that she does not love her children. There may have been restrictions in the court order preventing visits from happening. Supervised visits are also tremendously expensive – and she may not have been able to afford the costs. It is clear that the GAL’s involvement has completely devastated this family. But instead the GAL program reports, “The involvement of the GAL helped bring the case to resolution and provided the court with much-needed information regarding the best interests of the children.” The results have not been determined because the GAL program operates in secrecy, and offers very little public reporting. Also at the time this case history was published, there was no GAL complaint procedure in place.
The GAL has demonstrated very little knowledge or training on domestic violence and made recommendations that placed the lives of two teen girls at risk, and contributed to a mother being removed from the lives of her children. Domestic violence issues were not resolved. And an abuser avoided all responsibility and gained a powerful new weapon against his victim, in the form of a GAL who enabled the abuse to continue. The victim is labeled paranoid and mentally ill which she will carry with her for the rest of court proceedings, the label will make it difficult for her to regain parenting time or custody, and will likely prejudice the judge (and other professionals) against her case. The children are also being sent the message that something is wrong with their mother, and that she does not want to see them. Just as appalling the Program Manager and State Program Administrator, Suzanne Alliegro, reinforce the mishandling of this case by failing to take any action and now PROMOTE this kind of unprofessional, and frankly, dangerous, behavior by slapping it on the State GAL Board website as a success story.
The case mentioned here is not unique – there are an untold number of similar stories happening to both women and men, mothers and fathers, dealing with the failures and corruption happening GAL program in every part of Minnesota. Signficant problems in the GAL program have gone unchecked for over 22 years. In the year 2016 alone, around 17,000 children in Minnesota were represented by a Guardian ad Litem in about 8,000 cases. Take that number times 22 years…there could be tens of thousands of victims of the GAL program in Minnesota alone. It is time we as citizens, as parents, and as a Legislative body make serious efforts to reform the GAL program and work to better protect children from systemic abuse, and stop the unjust removal of children from fit, loving parents.
A similar thing occurred in my child custody case. I did not accuse anyone of abuse and in fact did all the long distance driving for their visits for many years. All I tried to do was move back to where we had lived before. The gal in my case was weak and caved to good ole local boys club that included many of my ex’s family in small town court system. He also received favors for stripping me of custody. He fought for them as if he was their lawyer instead of my children’s. Napa CA. Is crooked and my life was never the same. That Gal should be in prison. He was promoted then went to Sonoma co. God help Sonoma County kids!