Northwest NEWS

November 22, 1999

Editorial

Injustice in the family court system

   We are writing about the lack of oversight of Guardian Ad Litems (GALs) in Washington courts. Guardian Ad Litems are supposed to be impartial professionals who make recommendations in family court disputes. They are given immense power by the courts and routinely make decisions regarding child custody that have enormous impacts on families in Washington State.

   Most GALs are competent, professional, and ethical. But when GALs violate state laws and court rules, they impact the basic legal rights of family law litigants, such as due process and the right to a fair trial. The problem is that there is no oversight to assure that GALs follow the laws and act appropriately.

   We have read everything we can get our hands on regarding GALs in Washington State (which isn't much). There are some laws in place (under Revised Code of Washington Title 26), but there are no standard guidelines, and there is no centralized enforcement. Guidelines and enforcement are left up to each individual Superior Court.

   In addition, attorneys and other professionals are often afraid to stand up to GALs, for fear that a GAL will be biased against them in future cases. In addition, several prominent attorneys and legal professionals have been willing to stand up and recognize the problems with our current system and lack of oversight. This is why the Washington State Bar Association just recommended new rules which would require each court to implement standards, enforce the laws regarding GALs, and have a standard grievance procedure.

   To give you an idea of how bad the problem is at this time, we filed an official written complaint against our GAL well over a month ago and never even received a response. The fact is that right now in Washington state, there is no GAL oversight and no repercussions for them.

Sean & Lori Cameron, Olympia