What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
What does Appointing a Guardian Ad Litem Mean for Me?
A Court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to your case if you have a paternity, divorce, or even a domestic violence injunction case pending. Guardian Ad Litems, commonly referred to as GALs, are typically attorneys or other individuals with specialized training that are authorized by the Court to independently investigate the parents, teachers, and other third parties on behalf of the child and report back the Court their findings. The Court does not have to take the recommendations of the GAL, but the Court may consider them. A GAL when appointed 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.
When parents have a litigious case, or when there have been allegations of abuse or neglect raised, the Court may appoint a GAL to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Folks that are going through a heavy litigated case may lose sight of what is in the best interest of the child and put their own needs first. The Court may recognize this oversight, and appoint a GAL to prepare an investigative report and summary for the Court to consider at a hearing or trial. The GAL is supposed to be neutral, and despite who is paying the GAL, they do not work for either party. The GAL will keep track of their time and billing, similar to an attorney, and will submit their bill to the parties when needed. In some very rare instances, certain counties in Florida provide free GALs in family law cases.
What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?
The GAL’s job is to conduct interviews with third parties that may be able to give them a better idea of the child’s background, current school situation, the child’s mental health, and their current health overall. Once a GAL has been appointed, speak with your attorney about the information you will need to provide to the GAL. The goal is to present the GAL with only the information necessary to help the GAL get to the real issues concerning your child and do so quickly.
The GAL may interview the children, the parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, therapists, and anyone else that may have information about the family and the child. Be prepared for these interviews and know that what you say during those interviews may be incorporated in the GAL’s report to the Court. Once the GAL determines they have enough information, they will prepare a Report and Recommendation for the Court, which outlines a potential time-sharing schedule, recommended counseling for the child, tutoring for the child, or any other recommendation that is in the best interests of the child based on their findings.
Not all GALs are the same, and there is no strict checklist of items they must complete. The GALs must be guided in every case, and they can look at the following during their investigation :
Background: The relationship of the parties and their historical background (together and apart).
Parenting Styles: Of the parties, including third party care of the children.
Records of the Child: School records, disciplinary records, report cards, IEPs, etc.
Communications: Text messages, emails, social media postings and other communications between the child and the parents.
Child’s Routine: The child’s daily schedule during the week and weekends, and absenteeism at the school.
Child or Parties’ Mental Health: Psychological evaluations of the child and the parties, therapists’ notes and comments.
Records of Violence: Police reports, incidents of domestic violence, and DCF records.
For some, having a third party come into their home to investigate them and their child during a court case, is very unsettling. For those parents, they must understand that the Court does not typically appoint a GAL in a case unless they are also concerned about something that was alleged or said in Court. The Court cannot come into your home, and doesn’t have the time to look at every single issue in every single case—but the GAL has that time and can save everyone time and money in delving into those issues for the Court. For more information on the powers and authorities of a GAL in a family law case in Florida, click here.
If you would like further information about a GAL for your case, or are contemplating filing a case and what to know more about whether a GAL can help you, call Lauren Roderick Brusca at Brusca Law today. Navigating Guardian Ad Litems in the midst of litigation is very confusing, and you should know what to expect from an experienced family law attorney. Call Brusca Law today at 407-501-6564 for your free consultation to learn more about a GAL and whether they are a right fit for you and your family.