In some family law cases, a judge will appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) who will be responsible for representing the best interests of a child in court. In a divorce or child custody case, the GAL will be charged with investigating a family situation, and making recommendations to the judge about where the child should live, how a parent’s actions are affecting a child, and how much contact—if any—a child should have with each parent.
GALs can be paid professionals, like an attorney or a mental health therapist, or they could be volunteers who are trained in investigating family issues. Because children cannot represent their own interests in court, the GAL is appointed as an independent investigator who will make unbiased recommendations to the judge about the child’s wellbeing.
GALs can be appointed for a variety of reasons. Some GALs have very broad duties, and are tasked with looking into a family’s entire living situation. Other GALs are appointed for a specific purpose, like investigating whether or not a parent’s substance use is affecting the child in a negative manner. What exactly the GAL is required to do varies with each case, and will be spelled out in the family court judge’s order appointing the GAL.
Once a GAL is appointed, he or she becomes a permanent part of the case until dismissed by the judge, and will likely attend any hearings regarding the parenting plan or child custody. The GAL will likely interview people close to the child, including his or her parents, family members, teachers, friends, or counselors. The child’s parents are required to work with the GAL, and must submit to any reasonable requests that the GAL makes.
After the GAL completes the investigation, he or she will issue a report containing recommendations to the judge about the best living situation for the child. If the child disagrees with the GAL’s recommendations, the GAL will note this in the report.
If your child has been appointed a Guardian ad Litem, it is important to work with him or her in order to protect your child’s rights and wellbeing. While allowing a stranger to evaluate your life and parenting techniques can be intimidating, these professionals have your child’s best interests in mind.
If you are unsure about how you are required to respond to a GAL’s requests, or if you believe that your child may need a GAL appointed on his or her behalf, speak with the attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law. We know that the GAL’s opinion will carry great weight with your judge, and can help you and your family prepare for the GAL’s recommendations.
For more information about child custody or the role of Guardians ad Litem, contact Pacific Northwest Family Law today by calling 509-572-3700.