As a parent, you want what is best for your children. You feel that maintaining the role you have in your child’s life is what is best for your child’s overall well-being and future. You hope that during the divorce experience, nothing about your role in your child’s life changes drastically.
However, given the volatile emotions that can surface during the divorce experience, your place in your child’s life could be threatened by an ex-spouse seeking sole custody of your shared child.
During this challenge, it is imperative to have a family law attorney who is ready and willing to represent your interests to their full abilities. They understand what you are going through as a parent and are able to fight for your custodial rights.
Family courts will act in the best interests of the child, but in order to do that, they often will employ the assistance of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL).
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem is a guardian that the court appoints to watch after someone during a case. They generally are regulated by state and local laws and are appointed to represent a child’s interests in cases involving child custody, adoption, child support, divorce, emancipation of minors, and child-related issues.
They often fill the role of a fact-finder, attempting to figure out which home environment is best equipped for the needs of the child. They are looking for additional information that will help paint the picture more clearly, and as a parent, you need to be aware of what they are looking for and what you can do to help yourself and your child.
Either you or your co-parent can ask the court to have a Guardian Ad Litem assigned to their case, but it ultimately will be up to the judge whether or not to grant the request.
If the request is granted, the Guardian Ad Litem will conduct interviews with both parties, the children, and anyone else who may have insight into what will be best for the kids after the divorce is final. This can include teachers, neighbors, friends, coaches, or anyone else who would be able to shed some light on the background of any contested custody issue.
They will want to know about the history between you and your ex-spouse. While the Guardian Ad Litem will not require every detail of your relationship, they will be interested in knowing the circumstances surrounding the two of you and your individual relationships with your child.
The Guardian Ad Litem also will want to know what brought you to the point of contested custody litigation, as well as your parenting style. They are going to want you and your co-parent to be accurately represented in their assessment, so both of you will be required to offer insight on the child’s daily routines, as well as how your disciplinary styles differ from one another.
You also need to be able to prove many of your claims by providing a helpful list of people for the Guardian Ad Litem to interview. These people will be able to provide honest insight on how you interact with your child and emphasize your prowess as an active parent.
During the interview, the Guardian Ad Litem also will want to know what you believe your co-parent will say about you. This line of questioning is designed to outline your strength and weakness as a parent, so it is important for you to have an answer ready that recognizes your imperfections as a parent.
Recognize possible bias
During this process, it is imperative that you remain vigilant and recognize bias against you if you spot it. In those instances, notify your attorney and have them notify the courts immediately. You have a short window of time to disqualify the assessment of a Guardian Ad Litem.
This bias must be supported by evidence, such as emails or text messages favoring one parent over the other, a history of siding with one sex over the other, disciplinary action taken by other courts, or a failure to return one parent’s or their attorney’s calls.
Fees and differences
The fees associated with Guardian Ad Litems can be expensive, and in many states, you and your co-parent may be responsible for the payment. If you are considering requesting a Guardian Ad Litem, you need to be prepared to pay them, because the courts do not have to distribute them between the parents.
There also is a difference to consider between a Lawyer-Guardian Ad Litem and a Guardian Ad Litem. A Lawyer-Guardian Ad Litem functions as an attorney for the child and thus has attorney ethical standards to abide. They also may do more litigating that the Guardian Ad Litem, but both are similar, in that, the parents usually will pick up the bill for both.
Be an active and loving parent
You need to proceed with caution when working with a Guardian Ad Litem. Speak honestly and with the understanding that the both of you want what is in the best interests of your child, just like your co-parent should.
If you are the active and loving parent that you believe you are, then the Guardian Ad Litem will not have anything negative to report back to the courts.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.