A previous post here discussed the role of a guardian ad litem, or "GAL" for short. A GAL may be an important part of a Massachusetts child custody or visitation case. However, a GAL is not the only third party who may be involved in a custody case.
A GAL is appointed by the court to conduct an objective investigation into the facts behind a custody dispute and also to get an idea of the circumstances and background of the child and the family. The point of this process is to give the judge a better idea of how to fashion child custody and visitation decisions so as to protect the child's best interests.
On the other hand, a parenting coordinator, another third party, will ordinarily get involved after a parenting plan setting up custody and parenting time is in place. While parents can agree to use a parenting coordinator, a court may also appoint a coordinator when the couple has not been able to manage their parenting plan without significant fighting or legal issues. A court may also appoint a parenting coordinator if there is a high amount of conflict between the parents.
A parenting coordinator cannot make binding decisions for the parents and cannot offer legal advice or counseling. However, the parenting coordinator can help the parties resolve "minor" disputes about parenting, like pick up and drop off times or what extracurricular activities the child will be involved in. Moreover, the coordinator can help parents learn techniques to reach their own agreements. The idea is to help parents solve relatively simple custody issues without court involvement.
While parenting coordinators can be the right fit in some cases, sometimes it may be best to try to avoid having one appointed. It is usually best to discuss whether a parenting coordinator is a good idea with a family law attorney.