What is a Guardian ad Litem?
If you are a parent going through a divorce or child custody case, you may have heard the term "Guardian ad Litem," or "GAL" for short. While there are many applications for a GAL, I am going to talk about how GALs work specifically in a divorce/custody setting, with no child abuse or neglect involved.
A Guardian ad Litem is an individual appointed to represent the best interests of your child or children in the divorce/custody proceeding. Just about anyone can be a GAL, but usually it is a social worker, attorney, counselor, or similarly trained individual. Most GALs go through special training to perform their duties, but not all of them do.
The Court can appoint a GAL in response to a motion from either party in a divorce, in response to an agreement from the parties in a divorce, or on the Court's own accord.
GALs are really useful in a divorce case where the parents cannot agree, and the Court needs more information before making a judgment. While different GALs operate in different ways, they typically will do a full investigation of the child's life and relationships. The GAL has access to the child's medical records, school records, etc. The GAL can access medical and employment records of the parents. The GAL meets with the child/ren alone, with the parents present on both sides, and anyone else that the GAL feels is important to speak to. Then, the GAL will issue a recommendation for how the custody situation should look based on what is in the child's best interests. The GAL does not represent either party, but truly is supposed to just make recommendations for the CHILD.
If the parties do not agree with the recommendation issued by the GAL, it can be contested in Court. The disagreeing party will typically try to discredit the GAL report/recommendations, and will tell the Court why they disagree. Usually, however, especially with a good GAL and a good GAL report, the Court will adopt what the GAL has recommended.
There are some cases where a GAL is really beneficial, and there are other cases where it would not be beneficial. Generally, I think a GAL is best if the parents want vastly different things, and we really just need to see what is best for the kids, absent parental wishes. GALs are not really needed when the parents desires are really fairly close together, and close to what is best for the child.
A big caution with GALs- GET A GOOD ONE! There are some great GALs, and there are some awful ones. If you get a bad one, they are potentially on your child's case until they are 18, and can really screw things up for your child. A good GAL makes all the difference for your children and truly takes their best interests to heart. When it comes to GALs - take other people's advice in the community about who is a good GAL, take your attorney's advice on it, and don't just pick someone because they have a low price. This is not the place to try to save a buck.
I love working with a good GAL and they can make such a huge difference for your child. If you think a GAL would benefit your case, I recommend talking to your attorney about options.