Understanding the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) in Child Custody Disputes

Guardian Ad Litem

When parents go through a divorce, child custody can be the most contested issue. A parent’s special bond with a kid (s) can make it quite difficult to maintain neutrality and perspective during the divorce case.

Sometimes, the battle can be so fierce such that it is no longer healthy for the child. Anger and frustration can even push the parents into neglecting their little ones’ needs since they are too concerned with winning the custody contest.

When such a thing happens, the family court is usually forced to step in and ensure the child’s best interest is taken care of. In most cases, the court will achieve this by appointing a Guardian Ad Litem.

So, who is a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) and what role does he/she play in a child custody case? Read on to find out everything you need to know.

What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?

In simple terms, a Guardian Ad Litem is an individual appointed by a family court to take care of the child’s best interest during a child custody case.

The GAL has the authority to examine the child’s medical, school, and mental health records, interview the parents, teachers, doctors, and any other professional involved in the child’s life to make sound recommendations to the court on several issues.

GAL

In most cases, the GAL is a social worker, court-appointed attorney or mental health professional. He/she carries special directives to investigate both parents regarding parental decision-making, time-sharing, and other contested issues in the child custody case.

These individuals are usually professional and neutral in their work.  Upon completing their investigations, the GAL will make recommendations to the court to assist the presiding judge in making sound determinations relating to child custody.

What Are the Duties of the Guardian Ad Litem in Child Custody Cases?

The primary responsibility of the GAL is to look into the kid’s overall situation. Sometimes, the court may ask the GAL to look into limited issues such as allegations involving mental health, substance abuse and critical decisions related to a child’s care.

Once appointed, the Guardian Ad Litem tries to develop a realistic and factual understanding of the kid’s life as well as the lives of other parties involved in the contest. He/she will take time to try and understand the dynamics of the child’s relationship with his/her parents, siblings, step-parents, and even the extended family members.

The GAL has the power and authority to interview these people and conduct surprise home visitations and gather as much information as possible.

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During this time, the guardian serves as the only advocate for the child. He/she has the legal power to file motions that could modify the child visitation/custody schedule.

He/she can also file for restraints to protect the kid from any dangerous behavior of the parents. He/she can even move for contempt when the parents don’t obey the court orders issued regarding child visitation and custody.

At the end of the agreed-upon time, the GAL makes recommendations on what he/she thinks is the child’s best interest. The individual will also make some recommendations that he/she thinks can help the kid develop some meaningful relationship with both parents.

The Guardian Ad Litem’s primary mission is to provide the family court with unbiased information so that the judge can make an informed decision in the child’s best interest.

What Are the Limitations of a Guardian Ad Litem?

Even though the GAL serves the child’s best interest, he/she has certain limitations that depend on state laws. For instance, if the guardian recommends something contrary to the child’s wishes, he/she must inform the family court of the kid’s position on the subject.

In some states, the GAL’s final report is sealed so that it is private. The parties involved in creating the report are not allowed to share its contents with anybody else. The other parties will be required to cooperate with the Guardian Ad Litem and comply with his/her requests.

Failure to cooperate and adhere to official guidelines can lead to severe consequences. The parties involved cannot try to unduly influence the child or coach him/her on what to say or how to behave while in the presence of his/her parents.

How Long Is a Guardian Ad Litem Involved In a Case?

Most of them only spend a few weeks working on the case, but some may be involved for months. Typically, how long a GAL is involved in your child custody case will depend on your family’s unique circumstances.

For example, if you and your partner only have one child together and both of you are loving and responsible parents with no history of child abuse, a GAL may not need to do a lot of research and evidence collecting in your case.

On the contract, parents with more than one kid with a history of domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect charges may require the GAL to conduct thorough research and hold interviews to establish the child’s true desires and wishes.

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In most cases, the Guardian Ad Litem will conduct thorough research and hold interviews necessary before he/she makes any recommendations to the judge.  It means that he/she may be part of your child custody case for several months and even attend some hearings to gather evidence.

Ultimately, the amount of time that the guardian is involved in your case will largely be dictated by your family’s circumstances and your kid’s needs.

Are You Going Through a Messy Divorce with Your Kids? We Can Help You!

Understanding the job of a Guardian Ad Litem is critical when you are fighting for your child’s custody rights. The court-appointed authority is usually impartial and will only make recommendations based on a thorough investigation that is in the best interest of the child.  Any one of you is free to request for a Guardian Ad Litem.

However, you need to keep in mind that the GAL won’t provide you with any legal advice. Therefore it is still essential to work closely with your divorce attorney throughout your case.  If you are going through a messy child custody case, we are here to help you.

Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation with one of our experienced divorce attorneys. We shall evaluate your case and advice you on the way forward.

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