How to Cooperate with a Guardian ad Litem in Child Custody Cases
By Beverly Bird
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If the court has appointed a guardian ad litem in your child custody case, you probably already know that you have a rough road ahead. Courts typically only appoint GALs in highly contested matters. But the GAL isn’t your enemy; he may actually end up being your best friend in the litigation, so cooperating with him is of utmost importance. The judge will certainly expect it of you as well.
Complete All Required Paperwork
The GAL represents and looks out for the best interests of your child during the custody case, and your relationship with him may begin even before you meet him. Some states require that you attend an orientation program first so you know what to expect from the GAL process and understand what’s expected of you. Even if this isn’t required in your jurisdiction, you’ll probably receive paperwork to fill out before you meet with the GAL that includes a questionnaire to help him identify your issues and concerns. Provide as much detail as possible and be prompt about turning in the paperwork.
Meet with the GAL
The GAL is charged with making an in-depth investigation into your family’s situation and reporting to the court with a recommendation for custody. This process often begins by meeting with you and your child's other parent. The GAL typically meets with each of you separately first, then together, but this can vary depending on the GAL’s preferences. Your child isn’t present for these initial meetings. If you have documents or records that you didn’t include with your questionnaire and initial paperwork, and if you think they will help support your case, you can bring them with you to these meetings.
The Home Visit
The GAL will want to meet with your child as well. Some states require this if she’s at least 4 years old. This may take place at the GAL's office or a neutral location, but he will most likely conduct a home visit as well. This isn’t normally a surprise -- he won’t just ring your doorbell unannounced. Cooperate by making sure that everyone who lives with you is available and present on the scheduled date and time. This might include half-siblings, other relatives or even roommates who aren’t involved in this custody dispute. If they reside in your home, they matter to the GAL’s investigation.
The GAL isn’t limited to collecting information from you and your family members. He may also want to speak with your children’s teachers, pediatricians or mental health counselors. This may require that you sign documents authorizing the release of certain records, or consent to these interviews. Refusing to do so impedes the GAL’s investigation, but if you have a solid legal basis for resisting, talk to an attorney. Under some circumstances, you can file a motion with the court, asking that certain information be held back. If it has a direct bearing on custody, your request will probably be denied, but documents of this sort are typically held in confidence by the court -- they don’t become a matter of public record like your ultimate custody order will be.
Follow the GAL's Instructions
It’s possible that you might have to submit to testing, either psychological or for drug or alcohol dependency, if the other parent is making certain allegations. The GAL can require you to take a parenting class or undergo counseling. Cooperation requires complying with these instructions, but if you a have legitimate reason to object to some of these steps, you can ask the court to intervene. You may need the help of an attorney to accomplish this.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.