In a child custody case, a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a person appointed by the Court to look out for a child’s best interest. It is usually a lawyer or a social worker, but it doesn’t have to be. A Guardian ad Litem performs a custody evaluation for the Court. He or she acts as an impartial investigator and reporter as to the care and custody of children.
What does Guardian ad Litem Mean?
A Guardian ad Litem is a unique type of guardian in a relationship that has been created by a court order only for the duration of a legal action. A GAL is a person appointed by a court as guardian of an infant or other person to act on his or her behalf in a particular action or proceeding.
Can we get a guardian ad litem in an uncontested divorce?
It is possible to get a guardian ad litem to help determine who gets custody in a Massachusetts uncontested divorce, but that is rare. A GAL is usually only necessary when the parents can’t agree. In an uncontested divorce, all the issues, including child custody, must be agreed upon by the parties. Therefore, although it’s possible to get a GAL, it’s highly unusual.
What is a Custody Evaluation?
A custody evaluation is a process where a Guardian ad Litem evaluates the child custody situation and makes recommendations to the court. The purpose is to make sure the needs of the children are being met in the best way possible. The GAL assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each parent’s ability to care for the child. These evaluations are done when the parents can’t come to an agreement on a custody arrangement.
What Does a Guardian ad Litem Do?
The GAL is not an advocate for the child. He or she is empowered to gather information and report to the court. His or her duties are limited by the judge who makes the appointment. The Order appointing the GAL specifies the Guardian ad Litem’s duties. Each case can be different.
The GAL investigator gathers information that will help the court to make a custody decision. Typically, the GAL will speak to both parents and the children. They will go further and speak to other people involved in the child’s life as well. These so-called collateral sources may include:
- significant others of each parent,
- teachers, and,
More weight is given to the professional collateral sources than family members or friends. That’s because they are more objective and can provide a more accurate picture.
The Guardian ad Litem will observe each parent interacting with the children. They will review documents from:
- the court,
- the children’s school,
- the children’s doctors, and,
- DCF, if any.
The GAL will take that information and prepare a written report for the court. The Guardian ad Litem may also testify at trial. The GAL may recommend who should have custody of the children depending on the judge’s instructions. A judge is never required to accept the recommendation. That decision is for the judge alone.
What Does a Guardian ad Litem Ask?
Keep in mind, the purpose of the evaluation is to determine what is in the best interest of the children. So all the questions that will be asked will be leading to that decision.
One of the first things asked will be, “what did your mom or dad tell you to tell me?” The GAL is looking to see if the child has been coached. It’s a way to determine if the child’s statements are influenced by one parent or the other. The best thing you can tell your children about a GAL interview is, be honest.
The GAL first wants to see if the children’s basic needs are being met. They will ask about:
- if they are fed,
- are they safe,
- who provides for the child’s daily needs, and,
- if anyone harms them (especially where abuse has been alleged).
What Is a Guardian ad Litem Looking For?
The scope of the investigation changes from case to case. The judge specifies what to look for when he or she makes the Order appointing the GAL. Keep in mind that the entire custody decision is based on what is in the child’s best interest.
Some common issues a Guardian ad Litem is asked to investigate:
- substance abuse by one or both of the parents;
- abuse against the child;
- domestic abuse; and,
- criminal activity.
How Much Does a Guardian ad Litem Cost?
The Court decides how much the GAL can charge and who must pay for the services. Generally, the two parents share the cost of the GAL, however, one parent may be ordered to pay the full amount. In some cases where the parents have little income, the state will pay for the GAL’s services.
How to Win a Custody Evaluation?
Treat the evaluation like a job interview. Be cooperative and friendly with the Guardian ad Litem. Dress appropriately and show up on time for any meetings. Be prepared and organize your thoughts and supporting resources. Always keep in mind, nothing you say to the GAL is confidential. Whatever you say can be shared with the Court.
Custody Evaluation Tips:
- You should contact the Guardian ad Litem as soon as you find out who it is. This will show that you are eager to have an independent investigation and you have nothing to hide,
- Set up an appointment as soon as possible,
- Gather documents that will be helpful to the GAL,
- Prepare a list of who the GAL should interview.
Challenging the Report:
The Guardian ad Litem’s report is critical. A judge usually relies heavily upon it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t challenge it if it’s unfavorable to you. There are many issues that may be questioned such as:
- Is the information accurate,
- Is it thorough,
- Did the GAL address the issues in the appointment order, and,
- Did he or she spend equal time with both sides.
A Guardian ad Litem, or GAL, is someone appointed by the Court to help the judge make a decision as to who gets custody of your child. He or she will interview both parents; the child; and third parties such as teachers, doctors, and family members. You should prepare yourself for the process and for your interview in particular. The GAL writes a report. That report carries a lot of weight with the judge. The report addresses such issues as custody; parenting time; and, any recommendations for the parents such as counseling. If you have any questions, please give us a call or visit us at AffordLaw.Org. We’re making justice affordable.