Custody battles are often an intense and time-consuming process. Even when you feel you’re the best fit for the child, the court may need an outside opinion to help make a final decision.
A guardian ad litem is assigned to a case where two parents either can’t come to an agreement regarding visitation, child support, and custody. The court may also appoint a GAL because:
- A parent is suspected of child abuse.
- A parent is abusing a controlled substance or alcohol.
- The child has a clear preference for one parent over the other.
- The child exhibits at-risk behavior.
Related Reading: Enforcing a Parenting Plan
What Is A Guardian Ad Litem?
If the court orders a guardian ad litem to look into your case, you may have questions about what that means moving forward.
A GAL is an independent investigator. An outside third-party appointed by the court to impartially evaluate and propose which parent should be granted primary custody. Their sole responsibility is to observe. They don’t have guardianship of the children or any power over the parents.
They’re often an attorney, volunteer advocate, or a licensed professional, such as a counselor or social worker. In some instances, depending on the state, one person can serve as both an attorney for one party and as the guardian ad litem. However, their recommendation still must remain unbiased and in the best interest of the children.
The GAL will be a presence in your life, as they work on the case as long as it takes to complete their investigation. They will be at all court hearings and, if necessary, respond to any motions and appeals that affect their recommendations while the case is pending. In some instances, GAL’s are also asked to monitor the case after it has concluded to ensure all parties comply with the final court orders.
Related Reading: Child Custody: The Best Interests of the Child
What to Expect from a Guardian Ad Litem
During your time with the GAL, you should expect scheduled and unscheduled home visits.
They want to make sure you keep things clean and safe for your child. Additionally, they will likely talk to anyone who is relevant to the case. This includes the child, both parents, other caregivers, family members, friends, and teachers. If needed they will also speak with any counselors and social workers that have been involved. In short, they interview anyone who may have insight into the child’s life and situation.
During their evaluation, they may make requests to see additional relevant information. They may wish to see school or daycare records, medical documents, Child Protective Service records, pay stubs, counseling and therapy reports, criminal records, and records of court cases of anyone living with you. They also have the right to request that you undergo psychological evaluations, parental fitness evaluations, and even drug tests.
Related Reading: Parenting Evaluations in Custody Cases
After the Investigation
After they conduct all the necessary interviews and evaluate all pertinent information, the guardian ad litem puts together a written recommendation for the court. This details their findings and their custody recommendation for the child or children in question.
It’s important to note that the GAL only submits an opinion based on what they saw and heard. The judge doesn’t have to follow their suggestions. However, it’s imperative to be completely transparent so they can submit an honest assessment.
The concept of a stranger analyzing your every move and making a judgment on your ability as a parent can be uncomfortable and anxious. Think of this as an opportunity to prove your parenting skills and that you’re the best choice for primary custody.
Be your best self but not disingenuous. Be prompt when asked to submit information, stay calm when asked questions, and explain why you believe the court should award you custody.
Related Reading: What Can I Do After The Final Custody Orders?
Do I Have to Pay for the GAL?
In most instances, the court requires the parents to pay for the cost of the GAL. However, the good news is that there are circumstances where those fees can be waived. You can file a motion asking for an order for the following:
- The other side to pay, if they are financially able.
- Require the county to pay the fee.
- Order payment of the GAL fee based on the parties’ ability to pay.
- Request to waive the requirement of a GAL.
There is also the possibility that you qualify to have the cost waived if you meet one of the following conditions:
- The court waived your filing fee.
- You receive any public assistance such as TANF, SSI, SNAP, and/or ABD benefits.
- Your household income is below 125% of the federal poverty level.
- You have exceptional financial circumstances.
- You will need the following forms for a motion to waive the GAL fee:
- Notice of hearing.
- Motion and Declaration for Waiver of GAL Fee.
- Order waiving GAL Fee.
If none of these work for your case, there are still options. You can ask the judge to divide all the GAL costs according to the percentage each party pays for child support or pursuant to each parent’s ability to pay.
When it is time to go in front of the judge you must tell them:
- Why you cannot afford the GAL fee.
- You believe you do not have enough income to pay for the GAL.
- How much and what kind of public assistance you receive.
- If you did not have to pay a filing fee at the start of your case.
- If you have fee waiver paperwork, make sure to give the judge a copy.
Once all submitted information is assessed the judge will ask the other party about their ability to pay the GAL fee and then make a decision.
As always, it’s likely in your best interest to consult a divorce attorney. An experienced professional has been through this before and can let you know what to expect from a guardian ad litem and beyond.
Related Reading: Well-Intentioned Advice That Can Harm Your Case