The general procedure for Laura Cass’s investigation in most Guardian Ad Litem cases is as follows:
1. An Order Appointing Guardian Ad Litem must be signed by a judge and filed. NOTE: Most attorneys are familiar with GALs and believe that it is a useful and necessary reality of some of the more complex custody cases. However, there are some attorneys who do not work well with GALs and instead unnecessarily increase the costs and conflict for everyone involved. In these latter situations, Laura Cass has identified certain firms and individual attorneys who she is not willing to work with. In these cases, she can and will decline the appointment.
2. The parties must pay the retainer fee in full before Laura Cass will begin her investigation. The hourly rate is $250.00 plus gross receipts taxes ($125.00 each parent or as otherwise court ordered to be split). The initial retainer fee is $4000.00 (which pay be ordered split between the parties ($2000.00 each parent or as otherwise court ordered to be split). It is preferred that the initial retainer is paid by check or money order so that it can be deposited directly into the IOLTA trust account. The check can be mailed or dropped off at the office. If paying by credit card, Laura Cass will need to take the payment directly (the office receptionist will not take credit card information).
3. Schedule an initial office appointment. See Availability: New Cases in the categories section of the home page for possible appointment dates and e-mail or call Laura Cass to schedule.
4. Prepare for the initial office appointment: The parties can prepare for the initial office appointment by:
- Making sure any live in significant other can be present for the office appointment and/or home visit which will be scheduled at a later date. NOTE: children should NOT be present for this appointment;
- Fill out the following forms provided in the download tab on the home page and bring them to the initial office appointment: Initial Questionnaire and Engagement Letter;
- Begin gathering documents and other evidence for review;
- Begin gathering collateral contact information and filling out releases (if necessary). Also in the download tab on the home page.
- If there is not a court order directing parent-to-parent communication to be on Our Family Wizard (OFW). Ask the other parent if he or she is willing to mutually agree to use the program. Once both parents are registered, Laura Cass will then have OFW send an authorization link to the parents via e-mail so that she can monitor the communications and respond and intervene as needed. NOTE: please refer to OFW Guidelines on the categories section of the home page for more information on recommended communication.
- If the parents have not completed a co-parenting course or one has not been court ordered. Ask the other parent if he or she is willing to mutually agree to complete the program. Laura Cass recommends Terry Ashcom’s in-person co-parenting course. Once the course has been completed, the parent should upload the certificate to OFW and e-mail a copy to Laura Cass for her file.
5. The initial office appointment: Each parent will schedule a separate appointment with Laura Cass. This is an free flowing conversation to allow the parent to provide all background information, present concerns, requests and questions to Laura Cass from his or her perspective. Laura Cass will also ask questions and gather information that she needs depending on the circumstances of the case. The appointment is scheduled for 90 minutes but may end sooner depending on the complexity of the situation and information that needs to be provided. Any information that cannot be conveyed in 90 minutes must be provided to Laura Cass in written summary form within 14 days of the appointment. On a case-by-case basis, Laura Cass, may allow the parents to set up a second office appointment.
6. Home visits: In most cases, Laura Cass will set up separate home visits to meet with the children at both parents’ homes. The purpose of the home visit is to see a brief interaction between the children and everyone else who resides in the home and to meet with the children individually in their home environments. The home visit is geared towards the comfort level of each individual child. Laura Cass will not force a child to talk to her and the length of the individual meeting with the child will vary. Sometimes the child is eager to talk and Laura Cass will be able to gather almost everything in the first visit. Sometimes the first visit is shorter, and the child is more comfortable talking during the second one. Sometimes, Laura Cass will make a referral to a child therapist with a specialty in custody situations so that the child can be assessed for therapy if the child has difficulty communicating or another need is identified.
7. Documents and Evidence for Review: All documents and evidence for Laura Cass to review must be provided within 30 days of the Order Appointing Guardian Ad Litem. If this is not provided at the initial office appointment, it should be mailed or dropped off at Laura Cass’s office. The office is open Monday thru Friday 8-12 and 1-5. NOTE: It is the responsibility of each party to provide this information. Laura Cass may, but is not obligated, to do her own evidence/document gathering.
8. Collateral Contacts: The collateral contact list in the download section of the home page should be provided within 30 days of the Order Appointing Guardian Ad Litem. All necessary releases should also be provided. NOTE: Laura Cass will use her discretion in deciding who to contact except that it is mandatory that any therapist for the child be contacted.
9. Duty to Supplement Information: The GAL investigation is an ongoing process, the parents have a duty to update and inform Laura Cass of any new information or issues as they arise. The parents should also provide Laura Cass with any supplemental documents and evidence as needed even if it is past the 30 day deadline.
10. Report and Recommendations -DRAFT: In most cases, Laura Cass will provide the parties with a draft report and recommendations. The parties are then given about 10 days to consult with his or her attorney (if applicable) and provide feedback to Laura Cass, through his or her counsel only (if applicable). Any other counsel/pro se party must be copies on the feedback. NOTE; the report is for counsel and parties only and will not be provided to the Court unless a hearing is required on the GAL Recommendations.
11. Final Recommendations: Once final recommendations are filed with the Court, Laura Cass may continue to attempt to assist the parties in reaching a mutual agreement via a Stipulated Order. Otherwise, a hearing may be set on the adoption of the Recommendations. NOTE: A hearing may not be necessary if Laura Cass has binding arbitration authority. Please refer to the Order Appointing GAL for more specific instructions. NOTE: If a hearing is necessary Laura Cass will prepare a final version of the report and offer it is an exhibit at the court hearing.