The Pros and Cons of Having a Guardian Ad Litem Involved in Your Custody Dispute
Child custody disputes can arise any time two people share a child, or children, in common regardless of whether you were married to the other parent or not. In a perfect world, any two people who share a child, or children, would have all the same thoughts, goals and plans for how to raise the child(ren). We know, however, that we do not live in a perfect world and even two parents who are well-intentioned about the raising of their child(ren) will disagree on the best methods to achieve that goal; ever heard the saying, “there is more than one way to skin a cat?”. When two parents absolutely cannot agree about what might be in the best interests of the child(ren), it may be time to consider the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL).
A GAL can be appointed in any family law case where, either, both parties agree to the appointment, or in any instance where one party requests that the Court make such an appointment citing that it would be in the best interests of the child(ren) to appoint a neutral third-party to make recommendations to the Court about the child(ren)’s best interest. In either scenario, one or both parties will be tasked with paying for the services of a GAL. If the parties cannot agree on how the cost should be split, the Court may apportion the costs depending on the income of the parties.
A GAL is meant to act as “next friend to the child”, meaning, they are supposed to be an advocate for the child(ren), as opposed to playing favorites between the parents. In order to effectuate their role as “next friend to the child”, a GAL has certain powers, privileges and responsibilities, such as:
- Investigating any allegations made by either parent, or the child, by interviewing the child, witnesses or any other person with information concerning the welfare of the child;
- Seeking a court order to allow the inspection or copying of documents relevant to the child(ren), or the parents, that might otherwise be privileged, i.e. medical and psychological records;
- Seeking a court order to allow the evaluation of the child(ren), or the parents, by a licensed doctor or mental health professional when necessary;
- Assisting the court in obtaining impartial expert evaluations;
- Making oral and/or written recommendations to the court about what is in the best interests of the child(ren) which can include a statement regarding the desires of the child(ren); and
- Filing pleadings, Motions, or Petitions for relief with the court as they deem them necessary to promote the best interests of the child(ren).
The absolute positive associated with the appointment of a GAL is that they will always have your child(ren)’s best interest in mind. The biggest negative associated with the appointment of a GAL is that what they deem to be in the best interest of your child(ren) may not be what you had in mind. The court will put great weight on the report and recommendation of a GAL and, more often than not, the courts’ ruling will be in line with the GAL recommendation. All in all, the appointment of a GAL can be a wise and positive decision, depending on the facts of your individual case, and is an option to keep in mind.
If you are interested in discussing the pros and cons of seeking to have a Guardian Ad Litem appointed in your child custody dispute, an experienced family law attorney from Crawford, Modica and Holt would be pleased to sit down with you and evaluate the facts of your case in order to help you make a decision that is right for you and your child(ren).