Minnesota: Proposed Bill Requires Guardian ad Litem to Protect Address of Abuse Survivors

Minnesota: Proposed bill would protect the physical address of participants enrolled in the Safe at Home program from being released or disclosed by Guardian ad Litems in family court or CPS proceedings.

The bill, introduced in the Senate as SF3198 and in the House as HF3551, would change the laws regarding “Safe at Home” program to require that Guardian ad Litems (GAL) must accept the program address as the address of the participant, and  must not disclose their home address, work address or school address unless given consent to do so.

Follow the bill online at: HF 3551 Status in the House for the 90th Legislature (2017 – 2018)

Note: GALs are required to visit with parents and children as part of their job, which often includes an in home visit. In some cases, family visits could be occur in a public location or other place. Should a home visit occur, a GAL would need the home address of the participant, the bill allows for this under Section 5B.05 (a) – see below. However, GALs are still required to keep the physical address of the participant confidential.

Why I Support This Bill: Abuse Survivor Loses Custody of Children Because GAL Says Participation in Safe at Home Program Means She Cannot Co-Parent with Identified Abuser

Hennepin County Family Justice Center

I support this bill SF 3198 and HF 3551, as a mother and survivor of domestic abuse, who has been involved in family court and was punished by the GAL for being enrolled in the Safe at Home program. The GAL felt having a confidential address was quote “keeping secrets” from my identified abuser, Martin, meaning I couldn’t co-parent. As a result, I lost custody of my two children, who continued to be subjected to mental, emotional and physical harm.

I will never forget Martin telling me that he needs to know where I live so “when something happens to you, I can come get the children”. When I reported this to Hennepin County Guardian ad Litem, Jamie L. Manning, she sympathized with Martin and told me I am wrong for being concerned about my own safety. This coming from a person who physically attacked me, causing my two children and I to become homeless. My 6 year old son got a black eye after Martin forced entry to our home, slamming the brass door knob into his face. My son suffered from severe anxiety and PTSD as a result of the attack, saying he hated himself because he was unable to protect me from his violent father. In the months following the incident, Martin stalked and harassed me until I entered the shelter system and he could not locate me. The Safe at Home program has provided a confidential address that has helped to not only maintain my safety but has been an important part of rebuilding my life.

I support this bill SF3198 and HF3551 because I have heard other stories of abuse survivors enrolled in the Safe at Home program being forced to disclose their address in family court, under the threat that failure to do so would result in the loss of custody of children.  There is a real need to 1) educate program managers and staff as well as GALs about the Safe at Home program and 2) protect participants from being forced to disclose their home address in court proceedings and/or coercing participants to disclose their home address against their will. This law is an important step in ensuring GALs abide by the laws and rules governing the Safe at Home program, and working toward continued reforms in family court.

What is the Safe At Home Program?

“Safe at Home” is a program that helps people who fear for their safety maintain a confidential address. Safe at Home gives participants a substitute address (usually a post office box) to use in place of their physical address; this address can legally be used whenever an address is required by public agencies, and can also be used on a driver’s license. The participant can be reached through the substitute address, mail received at that address is forwarded to the participant’s actual address.

Program participants include anyone who fears for their safety including survivors of domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault or human trafficking; other participants may include professions such as law enforcement. Minor children of participants can also be enrolled in the program.

Safety planning and additional measures are often required to ensure the participant’s safety and to keep their address confidential.

“Safe at Home” has been implemented in 39 states (for a list please visit Address Confidentiality Programs)

Safe at Home was established in Minnesota in 2007, governed under Statute 5B – Data Protection for Victims of Violence and operated through the Office of the Secretary of State.

Learn More:

Minnesota: How Safe at Home Works

Domestic Violence: “Safe at Home” Program – Important Facts Every Judge Should Know (14-23)

Safe at Home: Best Practices for Law Enforcement

Proposed Bill Requires that Guardian ad Litems Protect the Address of Participants in the Safe at Home Program

SF 3198 – “A bill for an act relating to the Safe at Home program; modifying program requirements; making clarifying and technical changes; amending Minnesota Statutes 2016, sections 5B.02; 5B.03; 5B.05; 5B.07, subdivision 1.

“(a) When a program participant presents the address designated by the secretary of state to any person, that address must be accepted as the address of the program participant.

The person may not require the program participant to submit any address that could be used to physically locate the participant either as a substitute or in addition to the designated address, or as a condition of receiving a service or benefit, unless the service or benefit would be impossible to provide without knowledge of the program participant’s physical location.

Notwithstanding a person’s or entity’s knowledge of a program participant’s physical location, the person or entity must use the program participant’s designated address for all mail correspondence with the program participant.

(d) If a program participant has notified a person in writing, on a form prescribed by the program, that the individual is a program participant and of the requirements of this section, the person must not knowingly disclose the program participant’s name, home address, work
address, or school address, unless the person to whom the address is disclosed also lives, works, or goes to school at the address disclosed, or the participant has provided written consent
to disclosure of the participant’s name, home address, work address, or school address for the purpose for which the disclosure will be made.

This paragraph applies to the actions and reports of guardians ad litem, except that guardians ad litem may disclose the program participant’s name…”

 

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About Emily Court

It takes "Just Us" To Fight Injustice in Family Court. I blog to raise awareness about problems existing in the family court system, and use my own story as a personal example of how the systemic failures in family court, and the Guardian ad Litem Program, affect families, in an effort to encourage needed reform. Written by a survivor of domestic violence and homelessness working to create a better life for her children, in a stable home free of violence. In her efforts to rebuild her life, she has not only encountered harassment and intimidation from her alleged abuser but faced systematic failures in family court that have empowered her alleged abuser and put her children at risk. She is now fighting to keep her kids safe, and bring them home. Through writing and blogging, FCI is working to raise awareness about domestic violence, and the urgent need for family court reform. She is currently working on a memoir titled "'Til Prayers Are Answered".
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