In your family law case, you may have already heard the term “guardians ad litem” or simply “GAL” mentioned. A guardian ad litem is an attorney who is responsible for representing the best interests of the children involved in a court case. A guardian ad litem can be requested and appointed by a judge in a custody or divorce case, or either party in the case can ask for one.
When a guardian ad litem is requested, he or she must disclose any relationship with the children being represented, whether the relationship is familial, financial or social. At this point, the court will decide whether the requested GAL can serve or if someone else has to be appointed.
A GAL is entitled to payment for his or services, but the party responsible for paying this depends on the case specifics and the court. A court can order one party to pay the GAL entirely or request that the two parties split the cost evenly. If money is an issue for one party, the court may assign financial responsibility for the GAL’s cost in proportions based on each party’s income.
What will the GAL do?
The GAL has to determine what is best for your child, so he or she needs to carry out a full investigation that will include interviewing you, the other parent and your child. He or she may also decide to speak to other people for more information, and these individuals might include relatives, teachers, coaches, and even any mental health professionals who have had or will have contact with your child. The GAL will also work with the family law attorneys who are representing both parties in the case.
Do I need a GAL?
In a sense, the client of the GAL isn’t your child but his or her best interests. A GAL doesn’t become part of a case to defend the wishes of your child or further his or her own objectives, if any. The GAL’s job is to make sure the best interests of your child are accounted for and honored over the course of the case. The GAL will have full discretion when it comes to deciding what the best interests of your child are.
Sometimes, what the GAL believes are your child’s best interests and the right course of action to protect those interests aren’t going to be what you or your child ever imagined. Bear in mind that while the GAL does make recommendations to the court and these suggestions do have serious weight, he or she does not decide custody or any other matters. Ultimately, that will be done by the court unless you and your former partner or spouse are able to come to an acceptable agreement on your own or with your attorney’s help.
When a guardian ad litem is appointed, it means that your child is actively involved in the case and its legal proceedings. To best perform their job, GALs often must meet with the children in their homes regularly.
While a GAL is there to help make sure your children’s interests are looked after and weighed, the GAL process may make your child anxious or stressed despite your GAL’s attempts to avoid upsetting your child. You can help reduce the impact on your child by explaining that a GAL is not there to harm them or break up the family and by remaining professional and compliant with the GAL at all times. You should also keep in mind that the GAL is there for your children, so be sure to separate your marriage issues from your concerns as a parent when you speak to him or her.