Joint Custody is an arrangement where each parent has the children for equal (or close to equal) amounts of time. The most common schedule is that each parent has the children for one week at a time, typically exchanging the children on Fridays or Sundays. If you are considering a joint custody agreement with your soon-to-be former spouse or romantic partner, there are several factors you need to consider:
How do you make decisions?
Can you and the other parent truly cooperate and agree upon every major decision regarding the children? Maybe you can, but there is a distinct possibility you may not be able to do so for the many years to come. If this is a concern, you may need to name a “tiebreaker” parent for major decisions such as religion, education, medical/dental, and extracurricular activities.
Each parent is going to want holiday time with the children. There may also be holidays that are important to one parent but not the other parent. For example, one parent may have a big family reunion on July 4th each year, while the other parent does not have any special activities that day. It may make sense for the parent with the family reunion to have that holiday. Other holidays may need to be divided up in a way that is fair to both the parents and the children.
Work and Activity Schedules
You need to be sure that joint custody will work for the work and activity schedules for your family. If one parent works overnight every night, and you have young children, joint custody is probably not appropriate. If the children have an activity that is at 6pm every Wednesday, but Dad always works until 7pm on Wednesdays, he may not need to have them on Wednesdays if he can’t get them to their activity.
Communication and Cooperation
Above all, communication and cooperation are key items in a joint custody arrangement. Both parents will have regular responsibility for making sure schoolwork is completed, medications are taken, and uniforms are sent back and forth as needed. This will require frequent communication and cooperation among the parents. If you cannot put aside your differences enough to work together on this level, then joint custody may not be for you.
A Guardian ad Litem’s job is to represent the best interests of the child in any given case, and the Guardian Ad Litem does not represent either of the parents. As such, the Guardian Ad Litem cannot give parents legal advice. Parents must turn to their own lawyers when they need legal advice. If the parents need assistance in presenting evidence, gathering witnesses, etc to advocate for their own position in a case, that is a job for their own attorneys as well, and not the Guardian Ad Litem.
Although the Guardian Ad Litem can make recommendations to the court about custody and visitation in those types of cases, the GAL does not “rule” or make the final decision. Ultimately, only the Court can make the final decision on a case. Of further note is that the Guardian Ad Litem is forbidden from having ex parte communications with the Court. An example of an ex parte communication would be if the GAL had a private conversation with the judge about the case outside of the presence of the attorneys for the parties. As such, the GALs recommendation typically takes the form of a written report that is filed with the Court and thus made simultaneously available to all parties. Some judges do not request recommendations from the GALs and merely expect them to advocate for the child as any other attorney.
In some cases, a GAL may be appointed for a parent or spouse because that person is a minor themselves or is otherwise incapacitated due to mental or physical illness or disabililty. The GAL’s job remains to advocate for the best interests of their client.
Outside of custody and divorce cases, a GAL can be appointed for a minor or incapacitated person in all types of civil lawsuits and their specific role may differ.
When it comes to divorce, child custody and visitation disputes are no picnic. These events can be a very emotional and intense process. Frequently in divorce, child custody, or visitation disputes a Guardian Ad Litem, also known as a GAL, will be appointed.
In Alabama, a GAL is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the “best interests” of the child or children involved. A GAL’s duty is not necessarily to advocate for what the child wants which can sometimes be opposed to what is in the child’s best interests. The Guardian Ad Litem will often be asked to present a report and recommendation to the Court for consideration at the conclusion of the case, and, while the Court will take into consideration the recommendation of the GAL, the Court is not bound by what the GAL recommends.
A Guardian Ad Litem is not only appointed in divorce and custody cases but might also be appointed in cases such as;
• Minors involved without living parents
• Juvenile Delinquency Cases
• Child Abuse and Neglect cases
• Guardianships, Conservatorships and Decedents’ Estates in Probate Court.
• Civil Suits of all kinds where minors are involved.