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An unanticipated use for the guardian ad litem’s periodic billing statements

As part of the private guardian ad litem statute, “[t]he guardian ad litem must submit an itemized billing statement of hours, expenses, costs, and fees to the parties and their attorneys pursuant to a schedule as directed by the court.” S.C. § 63-3-850(C).  In my experience, South Carolina family judges are requiring guardians to provide these billing statements monthly.  In my experience, few guardians comply with this provision of their order of appointment (I single out for praise Mary Murray as the one guardian I work with who is scrupulous in providing statements monthly).

This subsection was created in response to problems that the 2001 Supreme Court decision in Patel v. Patel, 347 S.C. 281, 555 S.E.2d 386 (2001) highlighted, with guardians gone amuck and litigants unable to monitor what the guardian was doing. The obvious purpose of this subsection is to allow the parties to keep track of how much they may ultimately owe the guardian.  The one case I have litigated under the private guardian ad litem statute in which the guardian’s fee was disputed, I was able to shave the guardian’s fee due to her failure to provide such monthly statements.

A less obvious purpose is that a regular billing statement allows the parties to determine what work the guardian has actually been doing.  When I represent a party in a custody case, I typically begin my dealings with the guardian by sending him or her written communication of the issues I want the investigation to address.  Monitoring monthly billing statements allows me and my client to determine whether these issues are being addressed.  Further, when the guardian provides an opinion it is helpful to know the work that guardian has done prior to rendering that opinion in order to know whether that opinion is informed or not.

While the requirement of a guardian’s periodic billing statement was designed to allow litigants to know how much they might owe the guardian, such statements are equally useful to monitor the guardian’s work.  Litigants should review the guardian’s order of appointment to make sure they are being provided these periodic bills as directed.

  • As an extremely active GAL, I aspire to sending monthly statements, but the reality is that it is more of a bi-monthly thing due to time constraints. I find that I usually don’t get paid until I file a contempt action, so the bills serve little useful purpose for me. They do, however, generate a lot of unnecessary and often bitter phone calls from the litigants. I especially like (facitious) to hear from folks who want to know WHY I chose interview a particular witness or who wants to state that the child was in my office for only 38 minutes, not the 45 minutes on the bill. I think there are a lot of unintended uses of the GAL fee statement. I would like to see the rules changed to require reasonable, periodic billing by the GAL. There are some cases when monthly billing is appropriate. There are other cases when it is not. I don’t ever like anything to be over regulated, as you know.

    I would also note that nobody ever complains about my not listing many things that I have done on the bill. I often forget to bill calls or letters. Nobody has ever raised that issue.

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