Tufts Medical Center's CFEC provides a multidisciplinary approach to services in the following areas:
- Child Custody and Visitation
- Child Abuse and Neglect
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Termination of Parental Rights
- Post-divorce Disputes
- Domestic Violence
- Parent Coordination
- Family Reunification
- Therapeutic Visitation
- Placement Assessment
- Independent Home Study
- Educational and School Issues
- Removal or Relocation
Evaluations can be provided as follows:
- GAL Evaluation
- Sexual Abuse Evaluation
- Psychological Testing
- Neuropsychological Testing
- Parenting Assessment
- Attachment Study
- Domestic Violence Evaluation
- Substance Abuse Evaluation
- Parental Alienation
Introduction to the Guardian Ad Litem Process*
When married or unmarried couples separate and minor children are involved, Courts are often called upon to determine plans for child custody, visitation and/or access to the children. Some parents use attorneys or mediators to assist in working out parenting plans. When parents are not able to resolve custody or visitation disputes, the Court will make the decision. In doing so, often the judge will require the family to participate in a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) evaluation. A GAL is an individual appointed by the Court to evaluate family disputes concerning custody, visitation and/or similar matters and make recommendations to the Court. The GAL evaluation provides information about the family that will assist the judge in reaching a decision that is in the best interest of the minor children.
The Comprehensive Family Evaluation Center at Tufts-New England Medical Center is an organization in Massachusetts that conducts GAL evaluations. This information is provided to assist parents in understanding the GAL process and preparing themselves and their children to be active participants.
What is a GAL Evaluation?
A GAL evaluation is:
- An objective assessment of the needs of the children and each parent’s ability to meet those needs.
- An assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of both parents.
- Geared toward assisting the family in making a positive adjustment to the family’s separation.
- Attentive to past events, present resources and future needs of the family.
- Focused on the best interests of the children
What to Expect:
A GAL evaluation will generally consist of a series of interviews of the parents, children and other key individuals who have valuable information about the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the family. The GAL will generally interview each parent. Each parent will have the opportunity to present issues and concerns about the children and the other parent in a safe and comfortable environment. Sometimes joint interviews are indicated to allow the evaluator to assess parents’ capacity to work together.
The GAL will often schedule an interview with the children alone, or with each parent and the children. This may take place in the evaluator’s office or in the home. A thorough evaluation requires that both parents be involved in the process. Children should be encouraged to speak freely and candidly with the evaluator, subject to the rules of non-confidentiality imposed by the court that allow the GAL to make a report to the Court. The GAL may request multiple meetings with one or more or family members.
GAL’s regularly interview and observe children. This is best done in a comfortable and non-threatening environment. The evaluator understands that children experience a wide range of feelings about family rupture and divorce. Depending upon the age of the children, the evaluator may engage in structured play, have the children draw pictures or participate in other activities. The GAL will make every effort to avoid causing further distress to the children.
Who Serves as GAL’s?
Tufts-New England Medical Center GAL’s are highly qualified mental health or legal professionals who are engaged by the Court to conduct the evaluation. Many of the Tufts-New England Medical Center GAL’s are not employed by Tufts-New England Medical Center but are private practitioners in the community who specialize in the evaluation of children and families. They have been trained in the divorce process and its effects on children and families, as well as in child development issues and needs of children.
GAL’s do not make custody or visitation decisions, but only make recommendations to the Court. The GAL will have had no prior involvement with the family and will make an objective assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the parents as well as their effects on the needs of the children. The GAL will not be an advocate for either parent and will not provide therapeutic services to any member of the family.
What Else Should I Expect?
The GAL will interview all parties as indicated above. In addition, the GAL may seek to obtain school or health records or speak with social service providers, police officials and other people (often but not necessarily identified by the parties) to obtain information and documents that may contribute to a full and complete understanding of the family and the issues to be addressed by the GAL. The GAL will determine which of these people to interview and may solicit input on how these “collateral” sources might make a meaningful contribution to the evaluation process. The parties are not required to authorize the health care providers to such as physicians and therapists to speak with the GAL. If a party declines to give permission for a provider to speak with the GAL, the GAL will report the same to the Court along with information pertinent to the same.
Sometimes the GAL will request that certain kinds of psychological tests be performed if information about emotional or mental health status would be helpful to the evaluation. Psychological testing is conducted by a licensed psychologist. If psychological testing is suggested, please ask the GAL for more information about it.
How to Prepare for the GAL Evaluation:
You can prepare for the GAL evaluation by doing the following:
- Cooperate with the evaluator. He or she is there to help your family and the Court determine what is in the best interest of the children.
- Try to separate the marriage problems from your parenting concerns.
- Try not to view the custody evaluation as a contest. This is a time to set the marital issues aside and assess what is best for the children.
- Be open, honest and helpful with the evaluator.
- Prepare the children to meet with the evaluator.
- Allow the children to be open and honest with the evaluator.
- Keep your appointments
- Organize school, health and other information that you think is helpful.
- Make notes of the issues you want to discuss and the question you want to ask.
The Final Product: A GAL Report:
The GAL will prepare a written report of the assessment and will file it directly with the Court. The Court will generally restrict access to the report, requiring that it be provided to others only with Court approval. Parties generally will be permitted to review the report, but the GAL generally will not discuss the report with the parties after it is filed with the Court. The GAL report is intended to give the Court a clear picture of the family and provide information about how the children’s needs can best be addressed. In rare situations when the GAL is unable to gather all of the necessary information, the report will tell the Court what is missing, why it is missing and recommend how best to proceed. The GAL report may or may not include recommendations depending upon the Order of the Court and general protocol in the jurisdiction.
*Adapted from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, “Preparing for you Custody Evaluation” (1992).