In the state of Washington, any person 18 years of age or older may sue or be sued in a state court.385 A younger person may sue or be sued, but only through a duly-appointed GAL.386
While appointment of a GAL is mandatory, it is not jurisdictional; rather, the rule is that a minor must be represented by a GAL, or judgments against her may be voidable at her option. Whether the minor will be allowed to avoid judgments or whether judgments are allowed to stand depends upon whether the court finds that the minor's interests were protected to the same extent as if a GAL had been appointed at the time the action was instituted.387
Revised Code of Washington § 4.08.050 (2002) provides that if an infant party has no guardian, or if the court considers that the guardian is an improper person, the court shall appoint a GAL. An infant plaintiff of 14 years of age or over may herself apply to the court for such a guardian. If she is under 14 years of age, a relative or friend may make the application. An infant defendant of 14 years of age or over may likewise apply to the court for a GAL, if she applies within thirty days after the service of the summons; if she is under 14 years old, or neglects to apply, then any other party to the action, or a relative or friend of the infant, may make the application.
With respect to actions brought by minors, the applicable statutes of limitations do not begin to run until the plaintiff reaches the age of 18.388 For instance, the statute of limitations is tolled until the age of 18 in an action in which a minor claims childhood sexual abuse389 or a violation of the common law duty of parental support.390
In both juvenile and family court settings, persons serving as GALs must complete a training program approved by the Office of the Administrator for the Courts. Each judicial district in Washington must compile and maintain a rotational registry of persons qualified to serve as GALs.391 The counties must contain background information on their GALs, including matters such as education and criminal history. A potential GAL must make the required information available as a condition of appointment. Upon appointment, the GAL or the GAL program must provide this information to the parties or their attorneys.392
Various statutes and court rules seek to protect a minor's interest in pending litigation, or to more fully define the relationship between the minor and GAL in specific kinds of cases. For instance, in family law proceedings, the family court statutes provide that the role of a guardian ad litem is to ``represent the interests of a minor or dependent child.''393 Another statute, specifically applicable to the dissolution of marriage proceedings, adds that the GAL may also function as an independent investigator and fact-finder, and may be directed to make a formal written report to the court.394
In the domestic violence prevention proceedings, governed by the Revised Code of Washington 26.50.020 (2002), a person under 18 years of age, who is 16 years of age or older, may act as a petitioner or respondent without representation by a GAL or next friend.395 However, the court may, if it deems necessary, appoint a GAL for a petitioner or respondent, who is a party to a domestic violence action.396 Moreover, for the purposes of a child dependency hearing involving allegations of child abuse and an unfit home environment, the juvenile court may, in its discretion, appoint a GAL to represent the child even though his parents are present.397 It is noteworthy that under the Revised Code of Washington 26.50.020 (6)-(7) (2002), a person's right to petition for relief is not affected by her leaving from the residence or household to avoid abuse, and such action may be brought in the county or municipality of the person's new household or residence.
In sum, recent legislation in Washington has greatly expanded minors' access to the legal system, and, in particular, the role of the GAL in the litigation involving minors. Washington's approach would present a solid foundation for expanding minors' rights in Massachusetts.