Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Ok we will admit that this is a cheeky title but hopefully it got your attention. This post is an attempt to explain what a Guardian ad Litem (or GAL) is, his/her role and his/her involvement in the process.
In custody, visitation and/or abuse cases, the Court appoints an attorney to represent the best interests of the child or children (for this article we will just use "children"). The GAL (pronounced "G-A-L" not gal) has the responsibility to the court and the children of performing an independent investigation and report to the Court as to what is in the children's best interests. The GAL's responsibilities are not to the parties to the case; a common misconception. Most people think that a GAL is to make sure so-and-so has parenting time but that is not true. Sometimes more time with one parent is not in the children's best interests for a variety of reasons. That does not mean that parent is a "bad parent" and no one should think otherwise. It is just that a parent wants as much time as possible given the dynamics with their children, however, due to the children's schedules, extra curricular activities, education and/or social dynamics it may mean that the parent does not get what he/she wants.
Another way of thinking of a GAL is as the attorney for the child. If mom has an attorney and dad has an attorney, those attorneys are advocating for their client's desires so long as it is legal, ethical and warranted by existing law or fact. In these situations, the children's best interests are caught in the middle with little to no voice to be heard. The GAL should be protecting the children from the collateral damage of getting caught in the middle of a "custody battle". In other words - if mom and dad are fighting over what they want and the children are caught in the middle, who is protecting the children? The GAL - that's who.
The GAL does things that the judge cannot do. Interview the parties to the case without the rules of evidence, interview the children outside of court on multiple occasions, review school and medical records, talk to witnesses who may have information that would be helpful, and look into as many aspects of the children's lives as possible to get a complete picture for the Court. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle - the GAL is to try to put as many pieces of the puzzle together as possible to give the Court a complete picture of the children so that the Court can make an informed decision. You have to remember, in the courtroom the parents know their children better than anyone in the room hopefully followed by the GAL and the person that knows the least is the Judge.
Many people think that it is the GAL's decision as to what happens in Court regarding the decision of the custody and/or parenting time. Nothing could be further from the truth. The GAL makes a recommendation to the Court, however, it is the Court's decision. This means that the judge can choose to follow the GAL's recommendation, ignore it or pick and choose from the GAL's recommendation.
At the end of the day, some people may be happy with the GAL, some may be unhappy, however, most are partially happy and partially unhappy. It may be because of the work performed, it may be because of the report but usually it is because of the recommendation. All of these are normal and the parties' attorneys have the opportunity to still argue their case.
Hopefully we provided some insight on the role of the Guardian ad Litem. If you still have more questions, ask your attorney. If you do not have any attorney, feel free to give us a call at 757-454-2110.