Guardian Ad Litem

Heather O’Connor, the founder and owner of O’Connor Family Law, LLC., can be appointed as a Category F Guardian Ad Litem (or commonly referred to as a GAL, which is pronounced by stating the letters not sounding out the word) within the following counties in Massachusetts: Plymouth, Bristol, Norfolk, Middlesex, and Worcester.

Attorney O’Connor is an experienced family law litigator focusing her case work on high-conflict divorce and custody cases, which she has brought through to trial.  She has represented many clients in cases where GALs were appointed.  Because she saw a need for additional GALs within the legal community who understood the issues on both sides during a high-conflict divorce or custody case, she decided to also become a GAL, and looks forward to helping the Court get to the bottom of a case through her investigation and report.

What Does a Category F GAL Do?

A Category F Guardian Ad Litem is someone who is appointed by the Court to conduct an investigation to gather factual information that the Court would not be able to gather during a trial to assist the Parties and the Court in coming to a resolution that is in the best interests of the children involved. During the course of the investigation, the GAL will interview both Parties individually, the children involved, any other people who the court mandates should be interviewed, usually 2-3 people that each Party suggests, and any other people whom the GAL believes are necessary to paint a clear picture for the Court.

Once the investigation is complete, the GAL will write a report.  The length of the report depends upon how much information the GAL was able to gather and the complexity of the issues being investigated.  If both Parties are represented by an attorney and the Court allows it, the GAL can send the report to both attorneys directly as well as to the Court.  If this is to happen though, the report remains impounded, which means the Parties are not going to be able to get a copy.  If the Court does not provide for that within its order, then the report solely goes to the Court and the attorneys and the Parties will have to go to Court to be able to read the report.

How Do I Get a GAL in My Case?

The Court must appoint a GAL to be able to have an investigation take place in your case.  This can happen usually in one of three ways: (1) You and the other Party agree to it in writing and ask the Court to order it, (2) One of the Parties asking the Court for a GAL to be appointed and the Court appoints one over the objection of the other Party, or (3) Neither you or the other Party wants it, but the Court wants to find out what is going on from someone neutral and appoints one.

What Issues Do GALs Investigate?

A GAL can investigate a number of issues relating to a child within a family law matter.  This includes situations like:

  • Custody and Parenting Plans
  • Out-of-State Removal Requests
  • Where a Child Should go to School
  • Termination of Parental Rights
  • De facto parent-child relationships (when someone who is not a child’s parent acts like a parent and is seeking custody or parenting time)
  • Grandparent Right Cases
  • Parental Fitness Cases
  • Adoptions
  • Guardianships
  • Parental Alienation Issues
  • Parental
  • Substance Abuse
  • Mental Health Disorders
  • Domestic Violence
  • Sexual Abuse
  • DCF Involvement
  • Pretty much and issue that a child is in the middle of!

Why Does the GAL Have to Talk to My Kids?

Depending upon the age of your children, the GAL will want to talk to the children by themselves and is expected to by the Court.  There are a few reasons for this: (1) Everyone has a different viewpoint of what is going on and why things are happening the way that they are, including your children.  Their viewpoint is important too. (2) Different children have different personalities, intelligent levels, and needs – What is right for most children might not be what is best for yours.  It’s important for the GAL to get an idea of who your child is from them. (3) Sometimes it is important to your children to know that someone is listening to what they have to say so it’s important for them to be able to talk with the GAL.

What Should I Tell My Children About the GAL?

It is always best to involve the children within your court case as little as possible.  Depending upon the age of the children, they will have different levels of comprehension about what the GAL does.  The best thing to tell them, if they are old enough, is that someone is coming to talk to them about the changes that are going on in your family and encourage them to trust the GAL and talk to them freely.  It is very important not to try to influence your children about what they “should” or “should not” say.  You should talk to your attorney about this situation.

My Kids Say Different Things Depending Upon What Person They Are With! Can They Be Interviewed When They Are with Me?

Absolutely!  So long as it is in the best interest of the children, the GAL will always try to interview the children when they are with each Party individually.  This will usually happen after the GAL has already interviewed the Parties individually, so at that point, where the children are interviewed first generally has more to do with scheduling than any favoritism.

Can I Tell the GAL Something Confidentially?

No. Anything you tell the GAL may end up in the GAL report if the GAL deems it important in relation to what should be told to the Court in relation to your case.  If you don’t know if you should or should not tell the GAL something, you should talk to your attorney or, if you are not represented by an attorney, to the attorney of the day at your local courthouse.

How Long Will the Investigation Take?

The Judge will usually list a specific number of hours that it should take to get the investigation done.  The GAL tries to stay within that allotted time; however, depending upon the complexity of the case, how cooperative everyone involved is, scheduling issues, and how much information is provided to the GAL, there are times the GAL will need to request additional time in order to complete the investigation and report.  Most GAL investigations are completed within a total of 40 hours.

I Want to be the First Person the GAL Interviews!

Many people think that the person who is interviewed first will have an upper-hand within the investigation, but that’s not true.  Just as there is a Plaintiff and a Defendant in a case, both sides are going to be heard by the GAL completely.  The investigation usually starts with a request for both Parties to fill out a lengthy questionnaire which asks for a lot of the background information and what each Party is seeking.  The investigation usually will not start until both Parties gets this questionnaire back unless someone is dragging their feet.  In relation to interviews, usually the Plaintiff will go first, just like when you go to Court.  This is to avoid the GAL having to “pick” one side over the other side to go first in their interview as neutrality is extremely important.  However, if scheduling becomes an issue and time is elapsing, sometimes the GAL will meet with the Defendant first just to get the investigation moving.  The GAL keeps an open mind at all time and will ensure that both sides are able to be fully heard.  If any allegations are made that are concerning to the GAL, the GAL will do her best to give the side whom the allegation is being made against the opportunity to respond.  That way no one feels like they were attacked with no opportunity to refute any allegations.

What Documents Are Sent to the GAL?

If you have an attorney, your attorney will advise you about what documents should be provided.  Otherwise, the GAL will generally look at the pleadings in the case (the documents that have been filed with the Court), the answered questionnaires, and any other documentation that may be relevant.  Some of the documents that might be relevant could be medical records, report cards, text messages or other communications, pictures, police reports, etc.  You should work with your attorney when deciding what to provide to the GAL. If you do not have an attorney, you can always speak to the attorney of the day at your local courthouse.

How Do I Keep the Costs Associated with the GAL Investigation Down?

The best way to keep costs down is to be organized.  Filling out your questionnaire in as much detail as possible can help save costs because then you do not need to go over all of that again during your interview.  When you meet with the GAL, if there are specific points you want to go over, it’s good to have an outline or checklist.  This will help with the situations where you know there’s something else you want to say and you just can’t remember when it’s important to say it.  Especially with documentation, it is so important to be organized with this. If you dump a ton of unorganized documents in the lap of the GAL, it will take extra time to go through and organize the documents.  Being organized and to the point will always help keep costs down.

What if the Other Party Isn’t Cooperating, but I am?

Everything, including how the Parties act and how cooperative they are, could be included within the GAL report.  If one Party is continuously not cooperating, the GAL could file a motion at Court seeking that that person comply or the non-cooperating Party’s side of things simply may not be included within the report.  If one Party is not cooperating, the Court might later take that into consideration

Who Pays for the GAL?

Usually, the Parties will share in the cost of the GAL.  A Judge could order one Party to pay more than the other or that only one pays.  Usually, if one Party pays more than the other, the Judge might add in language that says, “subject to reallocation.”  This simply means that, even if one person is bearing more or all of the cost in the beginning, the Court can later order that the Party who was ordered to pay less could be responsible for more or all of the cost later.  In some cases, the Court may appoint a GAL who will be paid for through the State, but those cases are not as common as private pay cases.

How Does the GAL Report Influence the Court Case?

A Judge usually orders a GAL report because he or she believes it will help to resolve the case.  Often, although not always, the GAL’s recommendations are adopted by the Parties and the Court.  The benefit of the recommendations is that it provides a completely neutral person’s findings based on what both Parties say.  This often helps Parties settle a case rather than go to trial.

What if I Disagree with the GAL Report?

If you disagree with the GAL report, you should definitely talk with your attorney about what you can do.  If you do not have an attorney, you can talk to the lawyer of the day at your local courthouse.

How Do We Get Heather O’Connor as a GAL on Our Case?

If both you and the other Party agree to use Heather O’Connor, her name can be written right into the motion to the Judge.  If only one of you wants to use Heather O’Connor and the other side doesn’t, you can suggest to use Heather O’Connor to the Judge.  If neither Party can agree upon a GAL or the Judge decides to appoint a GAL off “the list” (the court’s list of GALs willing to accept cases in that county), you might get Heather O’Connor as she is on that list.

What if my Attorney was Against Heather O’Connor or her Firm in Another Case?

This is a significant concern for a lot of people; however, Heather O’Connor remains completely neutral in any GAL case she is appointed to.  Although many people think that a GAL might favor people they know or not agree with people who they fought as an attorney in other cases, all fears should be set aside.  There are no back-alley handshakes, negative impacts, or favoritism simply because of who your attorney is.  Heather O’Connor prides herself on being fair in cases and keeping the focus on the people who are involved in your case and your children.

How Does My Attorney Get in Touch with Heather O’Connor with Any Questions?

If either Party’s attorney has any questions for Heather O’Connor about whether she is able to currently take on a new GAL case, your attorney can call O’Connor Family Law at 774-314-4725 to ask any questions they would like.

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