In some custody cases, the court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem or a GAL. The court has a list of trained GALs and will select a GAL from that list. A GAL is a lawyer who has gone through training to be a certified GAL. His or her job is two-fold: first, the GAL will represent the children's best interests; second, the GAL will be the eyes and ears of the court.
The GAL will investigate and interview the parents, children, collateral people such as therapists, teachers, day care providers, other family members, such a step parents. The GAL will visit the homes where the children live with each parent to see the living conditions. The GAL will get to know the children and will visit with them both alone and with each parent. They will obtain and review medical, mental health and educational records. Once having done a thorough investigation, the GAL will prepare a written report or provide an oral report to the Court. Their report will make recommendations that are in the children's best interests, such as legal custody, parenting schedules, physical and psychological treatment, co-parent counseling. Some GALs will try to work with the parties to mediate custody issues. The GAL will always appear at all court hearings representing the children. The GAL is another lawyer in the case: he or she can put on evidence, cross examine witnesses, subpoena witnesses to any hearing. If the GAL believes the children are being neglected or abused, or a parent is unfit (such as is under the influence of illegal substances or excessive alcohol use), the GAL can file motions with the court to have custody immediately addressed and modified.
The next Blog will discuss more about the GAL and how to deal with them.