Written by attorney Teresa M. Harkins La Vita

What is a Category F Guardian ad Litem?

A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a person that is appointed by a Court to represent the interests of another party. A GAL can typically be a social worker, mental health professional, or attorney. There are numerous types of GALs, and the type of GAL is needed in a particular case depends primarily on the subject matter of the case. A GAL may be necessary in a matter involving incapacitation, probate, elder issues, or child performers, to name a few. In Massachusetts, GALs are organized into Categories. Each Category of GAL has qualification standards, which can include special training and a certain amount of experience.

A judge in the Probate and Family Court may appoint a Category F Guardian ad Litem to investigate any case where children are involved. Some cases where a Category F GAL may be needed involve custody, visitation, removal of a child from the state, or parental fitness. Either party can request the services of a GAL in these types of cases. If the judge agrees that a GAL may be necessary or helpful, the parties can agree to choose a GAL for the judge to appoint, or the judge will appoint one from a court list.

The GAL will be a trained, neutral fact-finder who will investigate the facts of a particular case and report back to the judge. The GAL will not take either party's side, and will not give either party any legal advice. A GAL investigation typically includes a visit to the parties' homes and interviews with parents, children, and collateral contacts such as friends, family, teachers, or doctors. The GAL will also review the court file and some other documents provided by the parties. The GAL will take notes of all of these interactions and create a Report which contains all of the facts that the GAL investigated.

The GAL's Report typically focuses primarily on the fitness of the parents and the needs and interests of the children, depending on the facts of the case. The GAL does not make a decision about any of the child-related issues in a case. Instead, the purpose of the GAL Report is to provide the facts necessary for the judge to make an informed decision. Since the GAL's investigation is usually quite in-depth, the judge may rely on the GAL's Report when making a decision about a case involving children. However, the judge is not obligated to rely on the Report, and always has the discretion to make a decision based on other information.

Having a Category F GAL appointed in a case involving children is a serious step. The parties should be prepared in advance to participate in the GAL's investigation. A party involved in a case where a GAL has been appointed should always seek the advice of a family law attorney in order to be prepared and protect their interests.

The information you obtain from this Legal Guide is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. This Legal Guide is for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice regarding your own situation, please consult an attorney.

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