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What is a Guardian ad Litem and Do We Need One?

We all want what is best for our children. In divorces or stand-alone custody disputes, the parents are often fighting because they disagree on what would be the best custody or parenting time structure for the couple’s children. Mediation or settlement is usually the best way for you and the other parent to figure out a parenting time arrangement that works best for your child’s individual needs, but that isn’t always possible. This is why in some cases, a court commissioner or judge may appoint a person called a guardian ad litem (GAL).

The GAL’s job is simple – to protect your child’s best interest. Essentially, the GAL is the person who represents your child, just like your attorney represents you. It is the GAL’s job to get information about the case and see what is going on. The GAL will talk to you and to the other parent about the child and about the case. The GAL may also talk to other people involved with the child such as teachers, grandparents, or friends.

The GAL also might want to speak with your child. Even if your child is very young, the GAL might still want to meet and interact with your child. At the final hearing, the GAL might give a recommendation to the court commissioner or judge about where your child should live and what the parenting time order should look like. This recommendation is based on the GAL’s investigation. Although the court will take the GAL’s recommendation into account, that doesn’t mean that the court will automatically do exactly what the GAL recommends.

Understanding what a GAL does not do is also important. A GAL will not give legal advice to you or to the other parent. This makes sense, as the GAL doesn’t represent either of you, and is required to be independent and objective. Also, while a GAL represents what is best for the child, that doesn’t always mean that a GAL’s recommendation will be in line with the child’s desires. Like the commissioner or judge, the GAL will take a child’s desires into account when making a recommendation, but the GAL isn’t required to do what the child wants. After all, what a child wants and what is best for a child isn’t always the same thing.

So do you want a GAL in your case?  This is a question that is different for each and every case. As the fees for the GAL are usually split equally between the parties, the cost of the GAL need to be considered. Also, even though the court won’t always follow a GAL’s recommendations, typically the court will do what the GAL recommends. A GAL is able to get closer to the parties and spend more time on the case than a commissioner or judge will, so it makes sense that the judge will rely on the GAL’s opinion.

The cases where we most often see GALs appointed are cases with a high amount of conflict between the parents. The GAL can investigate and help give the court an impartial view of what is going on and what is best for the child. If your case has a lot of conflict, you may want to consider asking the court to appoint a GAL.

The decision to request a GAL is one that needs to be considered together with an experienced attorney. Contact our office today at (253) 272-9459 to talk about your options and whether a GAL could help your child and your case.

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