Inside a courtroom where a Guardian Ad Item goes to testify and reports to the judge during a legal case.

Guardian ad litem | What do they do?

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Guardian ad litem

Inside a courtroom where a Guardian Ad Item goes to testify and reports to the judge during a legal case.

Inside a courtroom where a Guardian Ad Item goes to testify and reports to the judge their findings during a legal case.

Soon after I became a dad, it wasn’t long before we were heading to court over custody and visitation issues. You may be in a similar situation or starting the divorce process and a Guardian ad litem was recently appointed to your case.  As like most other parents in this situation, I had never heard of the term “Guardian ad litem” either.  So, What is a guardian ad litem and what do they do?

 A Guardian ad litem is a court-appointed attorney who represents the best interest of an individual in a court case. Guardian ad Litem’s represent both children and incapacitated adults. This occurs frequently during child custody and divorce cases as well as adults who are incapacitated or mentally ill. They are charged with protecting the best interests of children, financial assets, and property for adults.

 

Guardian ad litem | What do they do?

After a little research, as well as first-hand experience from dealing with my own custody and visitation case. They are impartial representatives of the child’s best interest. We also talked about the appointment of a guardian ad litem in our post Child Custody Lawyers|Why you need one.

So, what do they do? First off, they are an official officer of the court. That means you will want to treat them with respect, just as you would the judge. They will set up a time to meet with you or you need to set up a time with them. ( please see the 9 tips when dealing with a GAL below) and your ex to go over your case. The meetings are done separately of course.  While you may want to voice your thoughts and concerns about the other parent and child, and this will certainly give you an opportunity for you to do so. They simply just want the facts. And believe me, they know how to get the facts of the case too.

 

Investigating

Guardian ad Litem’s also have the authority to conduct their own investigations of your case. They can set up meetings with and speak with your child’s teachers, doctors, therapists, and others involved in your case. As mentioned earlier, they are fact finders. They have the authority to get school and doctor records. They will meet with and speak with your child and help explain to them the legal consequences of your case. Guardian’s will come out to your home and see what type of environment you live in. Remember, they are not your friend. They are to be a representative of the court and your child. Not you. That’s what your attorney is for. (yes we recommend hiring a child custody attorney. 

Their full range and scope of investigating are truly unknown if you are not an attorney, GAL, and have been in the legal field for some time. Their primary role and responsibilities are to protect the best interests of the child. So, When you have two adversarial parties such as two parents who are going through a divorce or custody dispute. They can offer a neutral, unbiased opinion to the court, truly reflecting what is in their best interests of the child.

After all the fact-finding is done they conclude their investigation.  They will submit a report to both attorneys, and the judge prior to your court hearing. This is so both parties have time to review it and dispute any issues or concerns. The GAL’s report is to be submitted in writing for the parties to review. Typically there is a deadline for which the report is due. For example, the deadline in Virginia for a Guardian ad litem to submit the report is 5 days before the next court hearing.

 

Who can become a Guardian Ad Litem

Becoming a Guardian ad litem varies state by state. While some communities like Communities for Children of Browden County in Florida offer programs open to the public. Setting requirements out than an individual must be at least 21 years old and have no record of a felony or judicial finding of guilt for a crime against persons and no prior history of abuse or neglect of a child or adult. While other states require a law degree and in good standing with the state bar in addition to taking specialized training, continued education, and certifications.

  • Complete an application
  • Consent to a background investigation, including a federal criminal records check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Complete a personal screening interview
  • Provide two personal references (print 2 forms, one for each reference)
  • Successfully complete a 30-hour training program

It can be completely different in other states.

 

 Here are 9 tips when dealing with a GAL

1. If the other side is represented by an attorney then you probably need to hire a child custody attorney. Everyone will be a lawyer in the courtroom but you (the judge, the opposing counsel, the Guardian ad Litem) if you do not hire your own.
2. Contact the GAL assigned to the case in a timely matter. Within a week of the GAL being assigned, make a call to his or her office to schedule the appointment to discuss the case. Don’t make the GAL look for you. You show how important the case is to you by how you respond, stay in touch, and how you can be a responsible adult.
3. Don’t “blow up” the GAL with emails, texts, and contacts for every little thing. No one needs to hear from you that much. Call when necessary. Vet issues and questions through your lawyer first and then relay concerns to the GAL. That is your counsel’s job. Remember – you pay your lawyer for legal advice, so get what you are paying for.
 4. Do be on time for pick-ups and drop-offs of the child.
 5. Don’t send angry texts, emails, voicemails, etc. to your ex. ALL of those will be used against you later. Before you respond to the other parent, ask yourself, “How would I like this being read aloud in Court?”. If the answer to that question is that you wouldn’t like it, then don’t send it.
6.  Communicate about the child through emails instead of texts. The emails are far easier to produce and read through than text screenshots and conversations.
7. Therapy and counseling. When your child is involved with that, you be involved as well. Know what is going on with your child. This is a vital service for children whose parents are in court often for custody and visitation issues related to high conflict and false allegations.
 8.  Your child’s school, extracurricular activities, etc are important. Don’t wait for the other parent to tell you about things at school. Reach out to the teachers and give them your contact information so that you can keep in touch. Grades, behavior, attendance, and special ceremonies at school are things you want to know about.

9. Treat the GAL with respect. It’s not his or her fault that you’re in the situation you are.

 

 

Summary

Now that you know some of the responsibilities of what a Guardian ad litem does. How will this affect you and your situation? Do you have an attorney or need to speak with yours now that you’ve read this? While you may not agree with everything he or she says. You can still act like an adult and respectful manner towards them. If, for some reason you don’t agree with something they’ve done. Speak with your attorney about it. They can and should provide you legal advice.  Are there things you could apply to your own situation and become a better parent or haven’t thought of?  Are you considering becoming a guardian ad litem yourself and want to make a difference in someone’s life? Kudos to you if you do. We certainly need more advocates that will speak up for children and people that will protect their best interests!

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