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What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in a Child Custody Case?

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By Liz B. Gatsby
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When parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the judge may assign a guardian ad litem (GAL). GAL investigators are trained specialists who investigate and write reports for the court.

GALs don’t have any power over the person they are assigned to, but only investigate and report back to the judge. In custody cases, a GAL will typically interview the child and the parents and caretakers.

The GAL’s Role

A GAL is an individual who has been appointed by a judge in a divorce or child custody case to make recommendations to the court on what they believe will be in the best interests of a child. While the judges ultimately make decisions in these cases, the GAL’s evaluation is very important and carries a lot of weight.

In order to get a better idea of what will be in the children’s best interest, the GAL will interview everyone involved in the case. This includes parents, children, friends, neighbors, teachers and anyone who may have insight into the situation.

The GAL will also conduct a home visit to get a sense of the environment and what is going on in your household. This may include taking photos and videos, examining any important medical records and even talking to any third parties who live in the household. All of this information will be compiled and presented to the court.

The GAL’s Duties

GAL’s investigate every aspect of a child custody case and will make recommendations to the court. These recommendations will be based on what is in the best interest of the child. The judge will highly consider these recommendations, but is not bound to them.

The GAL will interview both parents and children, and examine any relevant records. The GAL will also conduct home visits, which may include looking at the parent’s living environment and talking to any third parties living in the house.

The GAL will also examine the parenting style of each parent and will look at mental health issues, substance abuse problems, or any other issue that could affect a child’s well-being. The GAL will be present at all legal hearings, and will likely offer testimony regarding his or her investigation and findings. It is important for parents to not attempt to “coach” the GAL or try to manipulate him or her. This can backfire and cause the judge to rule against you.

The GAL’s Report

The GAL investigates all facets of your case and writes a report to present to the Judge. This is a confidential document and only parents, their attorneys and the Court can view it.

The investigation will look at how the child’s parents interact with one another, their home environment, the ability for either parent to cooperate with the other, any mental health issues and more. It will also include interviews of family members, teachers, doctors, and any other professional who is familiar with the child.

The GAL is a neutral professional who does not have a stake in the outcome of your case. They will make recommendations to the Judge based on what they believe is in the best interests of the child. A GAL will take the child’s wishes into account, but only if they are mature enough to express them. Other factors will be given more weight, such as the safety of the home.

The GAL’s Recommendations

Once the GAL completes their investigation, they will prepare a report to submit to the judge. This document will include their recommendations regarding custody, visitation and other contested matters. The court will review this document before making a decision.

The GAL will likely interview the parents, children and any other relevant individuals. They will observe the child’s daily environment, evaluate the parents’ abilities to cooperate and participate in a joint parenting arrangement, examine the parents’ mental health issues and any history of domestic violence and drug abuse, conduct a home inspection and much more.

The GAL’s ultimate goal is to protect the best interests of the children involved in the case. However, this is not always what the parents want or prefer. This is why it’s essential for parents to work closely with their attorneys to ensure the GAL understands their side of the story and does not make any assumptions. If the GAL is not representing your position, you can file a formal complaint with the court.

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