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Ask the judge to order an investigation to show it is in your child's best interest for you to have custody

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed January 2022

The judge can appoint a “Guardian ad Litem” (GAL) or Probation Officer (Family Service Officer) to investigate your case.

GALs are social workers, lawyers, or other people who have been approved to investigate custody cases. Probation Officers are court employees who investigate custody cases when the judge orders them to.

GALs and Probation Officers should not make up their minds about who should have custody before they start work on your case.

When GALs and Probation Officers investigate, they make a written report to the judge. The report has the facts they found from their investigation. They might also recommend who should have custody. You can require that they testify in person.

If the judge appoints a GAL or Probation Officer, cooperate. Give them names and contact information of the people they ask for. Also give them names and contact information of people who think giving custody to you is in your child’s best interest.

You can ask the judge to appoint a GAL or a Probation Officer to help decide which parent should have custody.  File a motion that asks the judge to appoint a GAL or order the Probation Department to investigate. If the other parent asks for custody, you can respond by asking the judge to appoint a GAL.

The GAL or Probation Officer talks to both parents. They also talk to other people who know your child, like relatives, teachers, therapists, medical providers, and day care providers. And the GAL or Probation Officer may also talk with your child. They report to the judge in writing.  If there is a trial, they should testify.

You may not agree with the GAL or Probation Officer. They may think that the other parent should have custody. Before you ask for a GAL or Probation Officer to investigate your case and report to the judge, think about how strong your case is. Judges do not always agree with the GAL or Probation Officer, but they pay a lot of attention to their report.

How much does a GAL investigation cost?

GAL investigations and evaluations do not have a fixed cost. The cost is different from case to case. It can be $3,000 to $20,000. It could be even more.

Who pays for an investigation?

If the judge appoints a Probation Officer to investigate, the state pays the cost.

If the judge appoints a GAL, the judge decides who will pay for the investigation. Sometimes parents split the costs. Other times one parent pays the entire cost. If you and the other parent cannot afford to pay for a GAL investigation, ask the judge to order the state to pay for it. 

The parent who pays for the investigation does not get to control it. An investigator's job is to be fair, get information, and recommend what is best for your child.

See Is it ever a good idea to ask for an investigation?

Who to call for help

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