Child custody cases can be tough on parents. It’s part of why they so often become heated and full of conflict. But it’s also difficult for the children involved. With so much going on and parents arguing back and forth, who is responsible for their well-being? Often the answer is a Guardian ad Litem.
If you’re involved in legal proceedings that affect children, the term Guardian ad Litem comes up frequently. But who are they, what do they do, and how do they impact your custody case?
In California, a Guardian ad Litem representing a child under the age of 18 is also referred to as the Minor’s Counsel.
What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL), or minor’s counsel, is an adult appointed by the court to represent the best interest of an individual, usually children, for a specific period of time.
When is a GAL Appointed?
A GAL is appointed either by request of one or both of the parents or at a judge’s discretion. This person serves to represent the well-being and best interests of an individual that needs help protecting their rights.
Referred to as “wards” these individuals are usually infants or minors. Sometimes this also includes mentally incompetent adults who are unable to advocate for themselves.
The Guardian ad Litem investigates the situation surrounding a case, creates a report, and delivers these findings to the court. These conclusions and recommendations often influence the court’s decision.
Though the GAL’s suggestions can and often do influence the final decision, the court is not bound by these recommendations.
This means that the court can make a ruling different from the GAL’s recommendation. Sometimes they heed parts of a recommendation while disregarding others. Again, this falls to a judge’s individual discretion.
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What Does A GAL Investigate?
During an investigation, a Guardian ad Litem looks at many things. This usually includes interviews with many people to get a full view of the situation.
GALs often also talk to:
- Family friends.
- Other family members.
- The Minor’s Counsel may also interview any other adults who has insight into a case, relationship, or living situation.
During the investigation, the GAL considers numerous factors. The list includes:
- The wishes of the child and the parents.
- The amount of time the child regularly spends with each parent.
- The child’s age.
- The child’s developmental and educational needs.
- An other significant factors that impact the child’s safety or well-being.
If a judge assigns a GAL to your case, expect them to remain a presence throughout your case. They usually stay involved until you reach an agreement approved by a judge, or a hearing takes place to decide the matter.
Divorce and custody cases get expensive. A Guardian ad Litem adds an additional expense. The cost often reaches thousands of dollars. The more points of contention, the more expensive it likely becomes.
Still, these are people who have the best interests of your children at heart. During high-conflict cases, it’s all too easy for parents to lose sight of that and make everything about themselves.
A Guardian ad Litem is there to make sure someone always thinks of the children.