In about 40% of my cases involving child custody, a Guardian ad Litem is appointed. This person is most often referred to as the GAL (said as 3 letters, not like an old-fashioned term for a lady) or Guardian. This person is an attorney who has completed special training and has been appointed by the Court, usually by agreement of the attorneys for the parties. The official role of the GAL is to represent the best interests of the children but virtually everyone speaks in terms of the GAL representing the children.
The GAL will speak to the parents or person(s) with custody or significant contact with the children such as a grandparent who cares for the children regularly for substantial periods of time. The GAL most often reviews school or daycare records and if there are any medical or dental issues, will review those records as well.
The GALL will most likely meet your child and talk with them if possible (many years ago, a father appealed my choice not to meet with a two year old when I had appointed GAL for her- he lost that argument resoundingly so I think GALs want to avoid that nonsense).
The GAL will not ask the child where they want to live.
When a GAL is appointed in one of our cases, we generally send them a letter of suggestions and tips for dealing with the GAL. While the letters vary in each case, certain themes are common in every case:
- The GAL is not your attorney and not your friend
- It does not matter if the GAL is friends with either or both attorneys (it makes no difference)
- It is extremely unlikely that the GAL will be charmed or manipulated by the other person
- Treat the GAL with respect and honesty – the opinion of the GAL is very well respected by the Judge
- Contact the GAL only when contact has been invited or after your attorney has approved the contact
- Be honest with the GAL about everything
- Realize that the GAL will not necessarily keep the information that you share private
- You must be able to discuss two issues fully with the GAL: what is the best quality of the other parent as a parent and what is the most important way that you can improve as a parent
- What is your contribution to any breakdown in communication between you and the other parent
- Be able to describe your child without using either the word “smart” or the word “gifted”
The GAL does not work for free and is not paid by the court. When an order is entered requiring you to pay fees, pay that sum promptly in full or if that is impossible, pay what you can and make arrangements to pay the remainder in the shortest possible time period (something less than 30 days if at all possible.