Child custody disputes can be a challenging time for both parents and children. In cases where the parents cannot reach an agreement on their own, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the child in a legal dispute. During this process, your GAL will visit and observe you and your family in order to assess the situation and make a recommendation to the court.
Oftentimes, navigating the proceedings surrounding a Guardian ad Litem visit can be confusing and overwhelming. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of a Guardian ad Litem visit so that you are better informed about what to expect.
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What is a Guardian ad Litem?
Divorce has now become much more complicated than it used to be. With as much as half of marriages ending in divorce, the court is taking into consideration more and more factors that can influence a child’s well-being. In such cases, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to investigate and report on the child’s circumstances and to make a recommendation in the best interests of the child.
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an impartial, court-appointed attorney who specializes in advocating for the best interests of minor children. GALs are impartial and act as decision-makers in child custody disputes. They provide an objective view of the child’s situation without any bias towards either parent. They also may provide evidence to a court, draw up reports on their findings, and present the child’s wishes to the court.
Research shows that an astounding 3,886 Guardian ad Litems are serving and protecting children across the United States. This number is steadily increasing as more and more families find themselves in unfamiliar waters; thus, demonstrating the need for GALs who can act as independent and unbiased advocates for children in custody disputes.
It is important to note that the ‘best interest of the child’ is a legal term that means all custody issues hinge on the child’s physical, mental, and emotional health. This means that a GAL will consider all factors such as education, mental health, lifestyle, and family dynamics when making their recommendation.
The Process of a Guardian Ad Litem
The role of the Guardian ad Litem is to act as an independent decision-maker in child custody issues that hinge on the child’s best interests. They are not legal representatives of either parent, and they do not provide legal advice. Instead, they gather information and make recommendations to the court based on their investigations.
Before the Visit
During the process, GALs will need to meet with the parents, the child or children involved in the case, and any other professionals who may have a bearing on the situation. It is important to begin preparing for the visit before it takes place in order to ensure that the GAL has all of the information they need to make an informed decision and recommendation. These are the common steps that you can expect prior to the visit.
Preparation and Scheduling of Appointment
Once appointed, the Guardian ad Litem will contact the parents or their attorneys to schedule an initial meeting. The meeting will typically take place at the Guardian ad Litem’s office or another location that is convenient for all parties involved. Also, the GAL will provide an appointment list and instructions on what documents, records, and evidence they would like to have prior to the visit.
Gathering Relevant Records and Documents
Before the visit, the Guardian ad Litem will also gather relevant records and documents related to the child’s well-being. These may include medical records, school records, daycare records, and administrative records. Other documents such as psychological evaluations, criminal records, and any other evidence related to the child custody dispute may also be requested. The goal here is to give the GAL a complete picture of the child and their home environment in order to make an informed decision.
Establishing Initial Deposit Fee
In most cases, the court will require an initial deposit fee from the parents to cover the Guardian ad Litem’s fees and expenses. This fee can vary depending on the complexity of the case. Oftentimes, the GAL will require a deposit before they begin their investigation. This will indicate that the parents are serious about resolving the conflict.
During the Visit
Once the initial preparation is complete, the Guardian ad Litem will begin their visit with an initial meeting and follow up with the other processes.
Initial Meeting with Guardian Ad Litem
During the initial meeting, the Guardian ad Litem will meet with the child and both parents to establish rapport and put the child at ease. They will discuss the child’s needs, routines, and parenting style. The Guardian ad Litem may also discuss any allegations of abuse or concerns about the child’s well-being. Sometimes, the GAL may request interviews with other people who know the child such as teachers, neighbors, and family members.
Observation of Home Environment
The Guardian ad Litem will also observe the home environment and may ask to see where the child sleeps, what activities he or she participates in, and how the parents interact with each other. This is to get a better understanding of what the child’s home life looks like and to determine if it is a suitable environment for the child.
Psychological Evaluations and Interviews with Family Members and Other Professionals
The Guardian ad Litem may also conduct psychological evaluations and interviews with family members and other professionals who have knowledge of the child’s well-being. This may include teachers, social workers, counselors, and healthcare professionals.
Also note that the Guardian ad Litem may visit the child’s daycare provider, observe their interactions with other family members, and ask questions about how they are being cared for. This is critical information that the GAL will use to make an informed decision.
Examination of Medical, School, Childcare, and Other Relevant Records
The Guardian ad Litem will also examine medical, school, childcare, and other relevant records to gain a comprehensive understanding of the child’s situation.
Moreover, the GAL may contact any other person or agency that has relevant information regarding the case, such as a Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSE) or a Child Advocate. You must understand that all of the evidence gathered by the GAL is critical to their decision-making process and must be provided in a timely manner.
After the Visit
After the visit is complete, the Guardian ad Litem carries out certain concluding processes to make their final decisions. These include:
Guardians Ad Litem Report and Custody Recommendations
After completing their investigations, the Guardian ad Litem will prepare a report and make custody recommendations to the court. The report will include a summary of their findings and recommendations for the child’s custody and well-being. In short, the report should detail the child’s best interests and propose a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interests.
Review by All Parties Involved in the Case
All parties involved in the case, including the parents and their attorneys, will have an opportunity to review the Guardian ad Litem’s report and make comments or objections if necessary. Usually, the court will appoint a second attorney to review the report and provide an opinion on it. Otherwise, the court may make its own decision based on the Guardian ad Litem’s recommendation.
Final Decision on Child Custody or Parenting Time
Ultimately, the trial judge will make the final decision on child custody or parenting time based on the evidence presented, including the Guardian ad Litem’s report and recommendations.
At this stage, it is important to remember that the Guardian ad Litem does not have any power to make a binding decision. Instead, their role is to provide an objective, independent opinion that will help the court make a deliberative decision in the best interests of the child.
Call Our Greenville Family Attorneys Today!
Navigating the process of a Guardian ad Litem visit can be daunting, but understanding the steps and being prepared will help to ensure a smooth process. A competent attorney with family law experience can help guide you through the process and ensure that your child’s best interests are represented. Remember, the GAL’s investigation and recommendation are often critical to the court’s ultimate decisions in child custody cases.
If you are in need of legal representation or have questions about child custody issues, please contact Greenville Family Attorneys today. We can provide you with the legal representation and guidance you need to make informed decisions in this difficult situation. We don’t just get results, we focus on creating peace during a challenging time. Call us at (864) 475-9393 today, and let us help you through this difficult process.