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Pay boost would be coupled with certification for GALs

A proposal advancing at the General Assembly is designed to encourage guardians ad litem in family law cases to both meet with children they serve and meet court standards for their work.

The measure would pay GALs for face-to-face contact with children at the same rate as in-court service. But guardians also would have to certify in writing that they are meeting standards for their assignment to protect children.

Surveys in 2015 and 2017 suggested guardians ad litem for children were allowed to falter in some localities. Family court advocates said some GALs met only briefly with the children they were paid to represent, others not at all. One local GAL system seemed like “welfare for bad lawyers,” a child advocate wrote anonymously in a survey.

A Supreme Court policy sets the pay for guardians ad litem for children at $75 per hour for in-court service and $55 for out-of-court service.

Problems persist, advocates say.

“I hear from young people who have been in foster care that they rarely met the guardian ad litem, maybe just before a court proceeding,” said Valerie L’Herrou, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “They wish they could have had more contact with their guardian ad litem,” she told delegates Jan. 17.

Del. Chris Collins, R-Winchester, has championed a certification requirement in the Assembly. This year’s House Bill 137 is backed by family practice lawyers.

“This has been a long-standing project of both the Virginia Bar Association Domestic Relations Section and the State Bar Family Law Section,” said Richard Garriott of the Virginia Family Law Coalition.

“By having this certification where they actually have to check off and certify they have done everything that is established under the best practices for guardians ad litem, I think it’s going to protect children in Virginia not only in foster care cases but in some of the most highly contested custody cases we have,” Garriott told delegates.

The House Courts civil laws subcommittee favorably reported the bill 7-0.