What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
In a divorce or paternity action disagreements relating to children frequently arise. While in a perfect world, any two people who share a child, or children, would have all the same goals and plans for how to raise the child(ren), that is often not the case. Even two parents who are well intentioned can disagree on many issues. When two parents involved in a legal dispute relating to children cannot agree about what might be in the best interests of the child(ren), it may be wise to consider the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL).
A GAL can be appointed in any family law case where the parties agree to the appointment, or where one party requests that a court appoint a GAL. A GAL is, generally, a neutral third-party that makes 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, a court may apportion the costs depending on certain factors.
A GAL is meant to act as “next friend to the child,” meaning they advocate for the child(ren), as opposed to picking a “side.” 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).
A GAL will have your child(ren)’s best interest in mind and a court will put great weight on the report and recommendation of a GAL regarding timesharing and parental responsibility. The appointment of a GAL can be a wise and positive decision, depending on the individual facts of your case, and is an option to consider in custody disputes.
If you are interested in seeking to have a Guardian Ad Litem appointed in your child custody matter, an experienced family law attorney from Crawford, Modica and Holt can assist you with any questions you might have. Call us today at (352) 432-8644 or contact us to speak with our team.