When parties to a divorce have children, it is not uncommon that one or both parents request that a Guardian Ad Litem be appointed. A Guardian Ad Litem, often referred to as a “GAL,” is a neutral third party that is appointed by the court to investigate matters pertaining to the care and custody of the minor children. It is important to understand that the GAL does not represent either parent or the child(ren). The GAL cannot give legal advice. The role of the GAL is strictly one of fact finder/investigator and reporter to the court.
If the Court determines a GAL is necessary, it will issue an Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem. The appointment will instruct the GAL as to what issue they should investigate. Issues relating to custody, parenting plan, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health and removal of a child from the Commonwealth are most common. The GAL is typically an attorney, medical professional or social worker with experience in the subject matter of the dispute. They must be independent of all parties to the dispute and play no other role in the court action.
The GAL will typically speak to and interview each of the parents involved in the matter. Often times they will also visit each parent’s home to see how the children interact with the parent in their home environment. The parents will also have an opportunity to give the GAL a list of witnesses to speak with if it is appropriate. The collateral witnesses can include teachers, family members, neighbors, friends, babysitters, etc.
Ultimately the GAL will write a report for the court to consider. It should be understood that the GAL does not make any decision with regard to the underlying issues. The GAL does, however, issue recommendations if requested to do so by the Court. The Court is not bound by the GAL’s recommendations and will determine independently how much weight to give the GAL’s findings and recommendations. This will depend on the GAL’s testimony at the time of trial and how the report is used at the time of trial, if the matter is not settled beforehand.
Protecting your children and ensuring they receive what is in their best interest is extremely import and is a matter not taken lightly. For more information regarding how a guardian ad litem can impact your case specifically, please contact one of our attorneys.