If you are involved in a custody dispute in court, a person called a guardian ad litem (GAL) may enter your case. The Court can appoint a GAL on its own. One or both parties may request the court to appoint a GAL. The court will tend to appoint a GAL in cases where there are special concerns relating to the parents and/or the children.
A GAL is a lawyer who is appointed by the Judge to represent the children’s best interests and investigate the custody case. The Judge may enter an order stating the scope and issues that the GAL may investigate. Or the judge may simply order the appointment of a GAL.
Usually, the GAL will make recommendations on issues relating to your children (e.g., whether the children need to be in therapy, whether a parent needs to be in therapy, whether the family needs to be in therapy) and legal and physical custody and visitation a between the parents. GALS can also investigate issues such as parent’s fitness or substance abuse issues.
The GAL’s recommendations and investigative findings are conveyed to the judge. The judge may give the GAL’s report great weight, some weight, or no weight in deciding these critical issues: legal custody, physical custody, and other matters relating to the children and parents. But because the GAL has gotten to know the parties, children, and conducted an investigation, he or she may have more information than the Judge.
One of the first things that will happen after a GAL is appointed is that they will reach out to talk to you; if they don’t, you should contact them-very soon. You need to be as cooperative as possible with the GAL. If they want to meet with you or come over your house, make time for them and be accommodating and pleasant during the visit. The GAL may make a surprise visit to your home, so always make sure your home is tidy and there is plenty of healthy food in your refrigerator and in the kitchen. Remember, the GAL may open up your refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, closets. He or she may want to take a tour of the house and see the children’s sleeping areas. You may feel this is an invasion of your privacy. And it is. But you have no choice. If you do not cooperate, that will hurt your case.
You should talk to the GAL. When you talk to the GAL, pretend you are talking directly to the judge. Know that everything you say may be told to the judge. Make sure you give the GAL facts and thoughts about custody and the children. Do not denigrate or criticize the other parent. Do not express or show any anger towards the other parent. Do not dwell on the reasons why the relationship did not work. Stick with the facts regarding the children. Focus entirely on the children’s and their best interests. If you have concerns regarding the other parent, make sure you state them in a factual and non-judgmental way. Give the GAL a list of people and contact information who has relevant, first hand knowledge of the children and your parenting abilities. Ask the GAL to talk to other family members, teachers, pediatricians, therapists, day care providers, coaches, and people who know your kids and have seen first-hand your strong and positive bond with the kids.
The GAL will talk to your children, usually a few times. One of the questions the GAL will ask children of a certain age is their preference for a custody schedule. This will be conveyed by the judge. Do not tell or coach your children about what they should tell the GAL.