Guardian Ad Litem - A Neutral Party
The guardian ad litem (GAL) is a court-appointed adult, usually a trained social worker, counselor, or other professional who represents the non-legal interest of minor children in a couple’s divorce. Very often, a GAL plays a major role in a custody evaluation when the divorcing parents cannot agree on custody and/or visitation rights, but a GAL may enter the picture whenever the domestic situation of the child is unclear.
A GAL reports to the court and is charged with using his or her judgment in determining the best interest of the child. The testimony of a guardian ad litem carries a great deal of weight since he or she is not on the side of either parent. A GAL is neutral and he or she is on the side of neither parent.
A GAL should not be confused with an attorney for the children, who is a court-ordered attorney who represents the stated wishes of the children, particularly when their interests may involve the distribution of property.
In a pitched custody battle where the court orders a custody evaluation, the GAL makes recommendations to the court about the best interest of the children. The child custody evaluation can be very invasive and difficult. A custody evaluation includes interviews, psychological testing and home visits. The objective is to understand the dynamics of the divorcing family and the rapport between the parents and child.
Unlike the GAL, who substitutes his or her judgment for the children’s, an attorney for the children must promote the wishes of the children.
In the case of very young children, however, an attorney for the children must substitute his own judgment when, for example, protecting the children from a predatory parent, who, for example, might seek to misappropriate the child’s money.
Any child who desires or is required by the court to express his or her wishes should be represented by an attorney.
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THE DON’Ts – Good parenting through divorce has a dimension that is negatively defined. Good divorced parents do not speak badly or make accusations about the other parent in front of a child. They do not force a child to choose sides, or use a child as a messenger or go-between, or pump a child for information about the other parent, or argue or discuss child support issues in front of a child. In short, they do not use a child as a pawn to hurt the other parent.
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