What is a Guardian Ad Litem and What is Their Purpose:
WHAT IS A GUARDIAN AD LITEM?
Family Law Judges across Georgia have the power to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). A Guardian ad Litem is appointed in many cases to determine the best interest of the child(ren). While this person does not have to be an attorney, many times they are. The appointment of a guardian ad litem may be consented to by the parties or ordered by the Court.
WHAT IS A GUARDIAN AD LITEM’S PURPOSE?
Judges and parties in highly litigious custody disputes often utilize the assistance of a guardian ad litem to aid the Court in the decisions regarding the well-being of the child(ren). The GAL conducts a thorough investigation outside the courtroom that typically includes the living conditions of the parties, background information relating to the child and the parties, conducts interviews with collateral contacts, teachers, family members, doctors or other professionals involved with the child and reviews documents pertaining to the matter.
At the conclusion of the GAL’s investigation, the GAL will usually provide a written report with their findings and recommendations. The GAL may provide an oral report to the attorneys for each party if agreed upon by the attorneys to save in the expense of legal fees for the drafting of a written GAL report.
IS THE GAL’S RECOMMENDATION BINDING ON THE COURT?
The Judge is not required to follow the recommendations of the GAL. However, the GAL’s report is often highly persuasive to the Judge’s ruling. This often leads the parties to reach a settlement based on the recommendation of the GAL, as their report can be a good indicator of what a Judge is likely to do if the matter continued on to a trial.
COOPERATING WITH THE GAL:
While the Judge in your case is still responsible for making the final determination in a case if the parties do not settle, the Guardian Ad Litem is a very influential factor in the Judge’s decision. Therefore, cooperation with the GAL is imperative. Treat the GAL as you would any other professional – be respectful and be prepared.
Make every possible attempt to keep any and all appointments with the GAL and be timely. While unforeseen emergencies are uncontrollable, if you must cancel or reschedule your appointment, make sure to provide ample notice to the GAL.
Additionally, provide any documents you would like the GAL to review to your attorney. Do not rely on the Court or opposing party to provide information to the GAL. Prepare a list prior to speaking to the GAL with names and contact information for any individual you would like the GAL to speak with including other family members, teachers, doctors, day care providers, babysitters, or neighbors, etc.
Statements and certain evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible in Court may be admissible through the GAL’s investigation and report. Your honesty and transparency with the GAL is imperative as your credibility is at stake if the GAL determines you withheld information or acted dishonestly. Even if the facts are on your side, withholding information or attempting to deceive the GAL will greatly impact their report and recommendation to the Court.
A GAL will investigate both parties. The GAL will speak to each parent separately during their initial interviews. While it is important to discuss concerns you have regarding the behavior of the other parent, it is important to focus on this behavior effects the well-being of the child. Disparaging the other parent and using your entire interview to mudsling your co-parent will not help your position.
A GAL will evaluate your willingness to foster a relationship with your co-parent and the minor child(ren). Your communications to the GAL regarding the other parent will affect this analysis. Discussing valid concerns you may have is not only important, but encouraged. However, address these concerns constructively and avoid personal attacks against the other party.
The GAL is likely to speak with the child(ren) outside your presence. It is important to encourage your child(ren) to be open and honest with the GAL, but never direct the child(ren) on what to say to the GAL. Many times, the GAL will ask the child if they have been encouraged to discuss or not discuss certain things. Additionally, GALs receive specialized training on detecting whether a child has been coached. It may be helpful to address with the GAL during your initial interview how they would prefer you introduce and explain the purpose of a GAL to the child.
Lastly, after a GAL has spoken with the child, it is never acceptable to ask a child about what was discussed between them and the GAL.
THE GALS REPORT AND THE COURT PROCESS:
Be patient. A GALs investigation can be extensive and may take several months. They are tasked with an extremely important job – determining the best interest of the child(ren). Try and keep this at the forefront of your mind during the pendency of your case, even though it may not be what is in your best interest. It is extremely important to discuss the role of a GAL in your specific case with a Georgia Family Law Attorney. While the Guardian Ad Litem’s report is highly influential on the Court, it is not the only factor the Judge will take into consideration. Additionally, even if a GAL report is unfavorable to your case, your Georgia Custody Attorney may still be able to dispute the findings of the GAL by finding gaps in the GAL’s investigation or other inconsistencies.
If you or a loved one are facing a contentious divorce or custody dispute, call Teague Law and speak with one of our Experienced Ellijay Divorce Attorneys today.