A Guardian ad litem serves as an advocate for the child and is charged with the duty of representing the child’s best interest, which may not be the same as what the child wants. A guardian ad litem will conduct an independent, objective investigation of the allegations before the court. When parents are so involved in their own arguments, sometimes their children’s best interest takes a back seat in their divorce case.
When Will The Court Appoint A Guardian Ad Litem?
When parents find it is not possible to agree, a guardian ad litem should be appointed to resolve those issues. The guardian ad litem will investigate the allegations of the spouses pleadings and motions and make recommendations to the court.
These are a few reasons and situations that a guardian ad litem is appointed:
- A parent is suspected of child abuse.
- A parent is abusing a controlled substance or alcohol.
- The child has clearly indicated a preference for one parent.
- The child is exhibiting truant, delinquent or other at-risk behavior.
Understanding The Role Of The Guardian Ad Litem
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an objective, impartial person whom the court appoints to act as a representative for the minor children in a contested custody proceeding. In cases of alleged child abuse or neglect, the court will, as a matter of course, appoint a guardian ad litem. When there are no allegations of abuse or neglect but the divorcing parents cannot agree on custody, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem. In other cases, one or more of the parents may request to have a guardian ad litem appointed.
First and foremost, the guardian ad litem is charged with identifying the issues the court directs them to investigate and conduct the investigation based on the allegations each party had made in their pleadings and motions. Nothing will be investigated that has not appeared in the pleading or motions.
The Method Of Investigation Of A Guardian Ad Litem
In the order assigning a guardian ad litem, the court will specify what they want them to investigate. Their task could be to look at the child’s living situation as a whole or to look at one or two specific issues (e.g., a parent’s substance abuse issues or mental health).
The guardian is more of a fact finder for the court than an advocate.
- Look for information that could help the judge make an informed custody decision
- Work with other professionals involved in the case
- Interview parents, the child, relatives, teachers, etc…
- Review medical, school, and other reports
- Attend court sessions
- Make home visits to see the child’s living situation
The GAL writes a report based on their findings. It includes a recommendation for a custody arrangement and any other details that could impact the judge’s decision. Only parents, their attorneys, and the court can view the report.
What Parents Need To Know About The Role Of A Guardian Ad Litem
Usually, the parents are required to pay an advance fee to either the Clerk of Court or to the GAL directly before an investigation can begin. The amount of the fee varies from state to state. Through the course of the investigation, the GAL may need to request that the parents make additional payments as well. Under some circumstances, one parent may be ordered to pay more of the fee than the other. Regardless of how the fees are split, the GAL still only represents the best interests of the children. Parents will be asked to schedule an appointment to meet with the guardian ad litem for an initial interview. It is important to schedule the meeting promptly.
When meeting with the GAL, it is imperative to focus on the relevant factors that the court will be considering such as:
- Wishes of the parents
- Wishes of the children
- Amount of quality time each parent has spent with the children in the past
- Whether there are any issues with drugs or alcohol for either parent or persons who spend a significant amount of time with the children
- Whether there has been domestic violence in the home
- Mental health of the parents and children
- Whether one parent unreasonably interferes with the relationship of the children with the other parent
- Reports of any counselors
- Possible criminal history of the parents
- Parents’ work schedules
- Parents’ living situations
- Any other significant factors
Can A Parent File A Grievance With A Guardian Ad Litem’s Report?
If you do not like a guardian ad litem’s report, findings, and recommendations, it is best to respectfully bring your comments to the guardian ad litem. Filing a motion to discharge the guardian ad litem because you are not happy with the report will not likely be successful. Discharging for bias requires a high standard of proof. There is no benefit to a party contacting the GAL directly to voice their objection in a disrespectful manner. In a high conflict case either or both parents will be dissatisfied with the findings and recommendation at some point during the process. Just remember that the guardian ad litem is serving an invaluable role for children who cannot speak for themselves and the parents who were not able to do so in a positive cooperative manner.
Are you going through a divorce or trying to retain custody of your child? Do you need help with Estate Planning? Maybe you need help with something else that involves your family? At Akilah Harris PLLC., we understand that family law cases are uniquely stressful and often take a heavy emotional toll on families. Our family law offices offer compassionate and thorough legal counsel to our clients. Consult with us when you need to protect your finances, assets, and time with your child. In these highly personal disputes, you need to rely on an experienced Broward County Attorney who knows how to defend your rights.