If you and your spouse disagree as to who should have custody of your children, your attorney may recommend hiring a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). These court-appointed representatives advocate for your child’s best interests, though not necessarily your child’s wishes. GALs can be invaluable, but their appointment also involves your child in the court process to a certain extent.
Why the courts may appoint a GAL
Before a court hearing, your attorney may inform you that a judge or magistrate has appointed a GAL to your case. Your lawyer may also recommend asking the Court to appoint one. In most cases, a GAL is also a lawyer.
A GAL may be appointed during any divorce or legal separation where parenting time or child custody is a contested issue. The judge may do this if he or she wants the recommendation of a neutral party.
What does a GAL do?
This person investigates your children’s situation to determine what would be in their best interest. This includes a recommendation about who will have custody of your children and what the parenting time schedule will be. The GAL could also make specific recommendations as a result of your children’s specific needs, such as mental health treatment.
Your situation may only require minor GAL involvement, or it may require an extensive investigation. This person may do any of the following by order of the court:
- Conduct interviews with parents, other family members
- Conduct interviews with the child/children
- Conduct parenting observations at the child’s residence
- Recommending physical or psychological examinations
- Visit and conduct interviews at the child’s school, doctors, daycare, CPS workers, etc.
- Review relevant court documents (including criminal records of parents)
The GAL will write a report that will be provided to each party’s attorney. This report will generally recommend a course of action for a custody arrangement that the judge may approve or deny.If you have a trial, the GAL will likely testify regarding his or her report.
Consult your attorney as to whether a GAL is a good option for you or if you need help navigating your cooperation with a GAL who is already appointment to your case.