In a contested child custody case, a guardian ad litem (GAL) serves as a representative for the best interests of the child. The GAL is typically an established attorney with extensive experience with child custody and family laws. This person will be appointed by the judge based on his/her knowledge and experience.? The judge will expect the GAL to observe the home environment of each parent; investigate contested issues; conduct parent and child interviews; and speak with teachers, daycare providers and other parties involved in the care of the child.
The GAL will observe the child and give objective input on which parent is best suited to take custody of the child. The judge respects the recommendations of the GAL and gives their judgment serious consideration when making the final custody decision.
Importance of a Guardian Ad Litem
When both parents in a child custody case genuinely think they are the best parent suited for custody of the child, assigning a GAL is vital. In these cases, each parent often hires a lawyer to represent themselves. These lawyers are required to act in the best interest of their client and not necessarily the child?s. It is difficult for the judge to decipher between which claims made by the parents? attorneys are legitimate causes for concern and those that are simply exaggerated accusations. This makes it necessary to get an objective, separate opinion that the judge can trust.
The GAL exists to represent the best interests of the child. Because courts prefer not to involve children in custody disputes, the GAL is responsible for communicating his/her conclusions about the welfare of the child, along with the wishes of the child if these differ from what is suggested by the GAL.
Powers of the GAL
A GAL has the power to view confidential documents in the court?s file just as any other attorney. However, in addition, they have the power to gain access to medical files and school records by issuing subpoenas. They may also issue subpoenas for witnesses such as teachers, doctors, and other parties involved in caring for the child.
What to Say to the Guardian Ad Litem
When interacting with the GAL, you should be respectful and courteous. The guardian ad litem will likely ask to speak with both parents and may request certain documents. ?Your responses to requests should be prompt; however, you do have the right to discuss any document requests with your attorney. The more you comply with and engages in inquiries from the GAL, the better you will be reviewed in the GAL report.
When talking to the guardian ad litem, you should keep conversations positive and focus on how you can provide the best environment for your child. Speaking poorly about the other parent will only reflect badly on the parent sharing the negative information. The attorney representing you should be left responsible for bringing to light any negative issues involving the other parent.