Understanding the Role of a Guardian ad Litem in Divorce and Custody Cases
Most people are not familiar with the role of a guardian ad litem in a divorce or child custody case. In this article, we will explain the role of a guardian ad litem and discuss the benefits of having a guardian ad litem.
1. What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem is a licensed attorney who is appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of minor children in divorce and custody disputes.
A Guardian ad Litem, often simply referred to as a “GAL”, will have extensive knowledge and experience in practicing family law.
Judges will appoint GALs that they know and trust to be neutral in whatever the pending matter may be, while also advocating for the needs and best interests of the minor children involved.
GALs do not represent the parents in the case and cannot give them legal advice.
Both parties in a case will typically be equally responsible for the costs of a GALs service in a case, absent some kind of extraordinary circumstances.
2. What are the duties of a Guardian ad Litem?
GALs have several different responsibilities. Once they are appointed to a case, they are tasked with meeting and interviewing both of the parties, as well as the minor children.
They will take notes, review all the pleadings that have been filed, and familiarize themselves with the case and the issues at hand.
Depending on the length of your case, GALs will likely have multiple meetings or check-ins with everyone involved; on some occasions, they may even do home visits if the circumstances warrant them.
The Guardian ad Litem also has the duty of recommending to the court what they believe would be an appropriate temporary visitation/custody schedule while a case is pending.
This is why Judges appoint attorneys to this role who are experienced in family law matters.
Sometimes, the temporary visitation schedule that the GAL recommends becomes the parties’ permanent arrangement, but ultimately, the Judge makes all final decisions.
The GAL will also be present during every trial and hearing and has the opportunity to ask witnesses questions just as the parties’ attorneys do.
GALs are also prohibited from having ex parte communications with the court – meaning they cannot have private one-on-one meetings with the Judge.
Ultimately, the Guardian ad Litem’s role is to advocate for their client, just like any other attorney.
3. What are the benefits of having a Guardian ad Litem?
Guardian ad Litems can be tremendously helpful for your case. Beyond the role of advocating for children, GALs can also help remedy disputes about visitation that arise during a case that might otherwise require the filing of a motion with the court.
This saves the parties’ money and the Court’s time – a win for everyone. GALs also serve as your child’s voice during a case.
Though custody and visitation are not solely based on what the child wants, their preferences are one of the many factors considered, and a GAL is the individual who is able to share those opinions with the court.
Parents are also strongly discouraged from discussing their divorce or custody case with their children, regardless of their age. GALs are able to step in and answer any questions your children may have about what is going on and can best explain to them what the process is.
It is in everyone’s best interest for your children to have a good relationship with and trust in their GAL.
At Herlihy Family Law, all of our attorneys have experience serving as Guardian ad Litems in both Circuit Court and Juvenile Court in Mobile County.
Author: Anna Eden
Attorney Anna Eden is a native of Mobile, Alabama. Prior to joining Herlihy Family Law, Anna worked as a law clerk for Circuit Court Judges Michael Windom and Michael Sherman. It was during her time clerking for Judge Sherman that Anna discovered her passion for helping people navigate the complex and emotional issues involved in family law.
Anna aids in the representation of individuals across a variety of family law issues, including divorce and child support, juvenile law, child custody law, probate, and wills.