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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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:
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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