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What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Published at August 1, 2019 by administrator.

What is a Guardian ad Litem? If your judge has appointed one to your family law case, you probably have a lot of questions. 

Learn exactly what this person does, their role in the state of Florida, and how you can work with them effectively to achieve the best outcomes for you and your children. 

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a Latin term that means “guardian for the lawsuit.” In family law cases, this is a neutral party appointed by the judge to help the court make decisions in the best interests of the child – often in high-conflict cases.

Either party can also ask the court to have a GAL assigned, although it’s ultimately up to the judge. When you and your spouse are in disagreement about child custody, a GAL can be a helpful resource. You could agree to abide by their recommendation, avoiding the time and expense of excessive court hearings.

In Florida, the GAL must either be an attorney or someone certified by Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program. Once appointed, the Judge typically sets the fee for the guardian’s services, and what portion each parent pays. 

What is a Guardian ad Litem?
In family law cases, the judge appoints a Guardian ad Litem to help the court make decisions in the best interests of the children.

What is the GALs role in the state of Florida?

According to Florida Statutes, “A guardian ad litem shall act as next friend of the child, investigator or evaluator, not as attorney or advocate but shall act in the child’s best interest. A guardian ad litem shall have the powers, privileges, and responsibilities to the extent necessary to advance the best interest of the child.”

So, what does this mean in practice? A Florida GAL can (with proper notice to all parties):

  • Investigate any allegations affecting the child. This could include interviewing the child, witnesses, or any other person with information concerning the child’s welfare.
  • Petition the court for an order. They may need to inspect and copy documents relating to the child, parents, or other household members. For example, records from hospitals, medical doctors, dentists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
  • Request the court to order and obtain expert examinations. To obtain a full picture of the situation, the GAL can request expert examinations of the child, the child’s parents, or other interested parties. This is typically by medical doctors, dentists, or mental health professionals.
  • Address the court through written or oral recommendations. The Guardian ad Litem files a written report which may include recommendations and a statement of the child’s wishes. 
  • Access copies of all pleadings, notices, and other documents as part of the case. They are also entitled to reasonable notice before either party, their counsel, or the court takes any action affecting the child.
  • File pleadings, motions, or petitions for relief as appropriate or necessary. The Guardian ad Litem is entitled to participate in all depositions, hearings, and other proceedings in the action, and (through counsel) may request the attendance of witnesses.

What should you do if you think the GAL is biased?

When the judge appoints a GAL, it’s normal to feel threatened. After all, this person has a lot of power over your case.

Try to keep in mind that your judge has likely heard complaints of bias quite often – usually because the Guardian ad Litem has legitimate issues with one parent based on evidence. The parent may feel targeted and lashes out.

However, if you truly feel there’s a problem, notify your attorney immediately. You have limited time to disqualify a Guardian ad Litem before the investigation starts. You’ll need to show clear evidence of bias, not hearsay.

How can you work better with the Guardian ad Litem?

Rather than fighting with the Guardian ad Litem, focus on presenting your case as a competent parent. It helps to be proactive. Here are some tips on what to provide.

  • Describe your parenting style – Are you laid back or fairly strict? Most importantly, if your parenting style differs from your spouse, tell them where you’ve disagreed and why.
  • Share your children’s daily routines – Give them a picture of your child’s life and how you’d like to maintain consistency.
  • Offer a list of people to interview – Provide three to five people who have seen you interact with your children and you know will speak positively about your parenting skills.
  • Acknowledge your weaknesses – The GAL will surely ask “What will your spouse say about you?” Have an answer ready to show them you’re self-aware. In other words, you know you’re not the perfect parent.

Finally, in every conversation, reinforce that all you really want is what is best for your kids. Make sure they know it’s top of mind.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?
Instead of feeling threatened by the Guardian ad Litem, focus on how you can provide all the information they need to prepare an accurate report.

What should you do if you disagree with the Guardian ad Litem’s report?

Although the Guardian ad Litem’s report carries weight, the ultimate decision rest with the judge.

In order to give all parties time to respond, the GAL must file and serve their report at least 20 days prior to the hearing where it’s presented. If you disagree with the findings or final recommendations, it’s best to speak with your family law attorney.

They can help you strategize the next steps, which might include:

  • Making a list of important information left out of the report
  • Requesting the GAL complete file of the case
  • Talking with witnesses who spoke with the GAL
  • Checking to see if they interviewed all your recommended contacts
  • Asking important references to make a declaration or testify at the trial
  • Pointing out assertions in the report without supporting evidence

Hopefully, we’ve given you some peace of mind as you navigate your child custody case. If you’d like additional guidance, please contact us for a free consultation.

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