Montana Family Law Legislative Session Update 2011 – Guardian ad Litem billsMarybeth Sampsel
While over a dozen bills regarding family law are expected to be introduced in the Montana legislature this session, only six have been introduced thus far. Four bills arose in the Montana House of Representatives, while two have been introduced in the Senate.
A relatively hot topic this session is the oversight of guardians ad litem, including instituting a grievance procedure and training. Two bills have been introduced regarding guardians ad litem – one in the House, sponsored by Rep. Betsy Hands, and the other in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Larry Jent. The Senate bill applies to guardians ad litem appointed during a dependency and neglect case. The House bill, on the other hand, applies to those guardians ad litem appointed by the court during contested parenting or custody cases.
Montana’s current guardian ad litem statute (M.C.A. 40-4-205) does not include any language regarding the training, experience or qualification of guardians ad litem. In other words, under the current law, a court could appoint a guardian ad litem without requiring them to attend any sort of training. While the lack of training may seem like a problem, Montana judicial districts are generally small enough (at least here in Flathead County) that the District Court Judges are well aware of the experience and expertise of those attorneys they appoint as GALs in contested parenting cases.
The House bill also provides a grievance procedure for those litigants that are unsatisfied with the work their guardian ad litem has done, or has not done.
Most importantly, the bill provides for a local guardian ad litem review committee, appointed to serve without compensation and for the purpose of review grievances filed by litigants. In theory, not a bad idea, but logically, I do not see the resources and time available to make such a committee work. Our district courts and court staff are incredibly busy as it is and adding yet another committee to their plate is probably not the most effective use of judicial resources.
If you wish to follow other bills introduced this session, you can do so here.