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Do my children need their own attorney ("Guardian Ad Litem")?

In certain Family Law situations (usually high-conflict cases), the court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem ("GAL") to represent the children as their own separate attorney.

Wikipedia explains that:

Guardians ad litem are often appointed in divorce cases or in parenting time disputes to represent the interests of the minor children. Guardians ad litem are also used in other family matters involving grandparents obtaining custody or grandparenting time as well as protection orders where one parent is attempting to get an order against another party with a legal connection to the mother of the child. The kinds of people appointed as a guardian ad litem vary by state, ranging from volunteers to social workers to regular attorneys to others with the appropriate qualifications. The two divorcing parents are usually responsible for paying the fees of the guardian ad litem, even though the guardian ad litem is not responsible to them at all. In some states, the county government pays the fee of that attorney. The guardian ad litem's only job is to represent the minor children's best interests.

In a situation where the parents, for instances, are battling tooth-and-nail over the children, both claiming to be concerned about the "best interest of the child", the Court will appoint an attorney to investigate the circumstances from the perspective of the children and to report back to the Court with his or her recommendations.  The GAL will owe no allegiance or favoritism to either of the parties and can give the Court an objective viewpoint on what is truly best for the children.

GAL are most commonly appointed in disputed child custody cases.

The GAL has the authority to investigate both parents; to talk to the children involved; to interview the children's teachers, grandparents, close family members and any other "collateral" parties; and sometimes to inspect the parties' respective homes and living conditions.

The GAL is often called upon to testify in Court as to his or her findings and recommendations.  The parties have the right to counter the GAL's report or testimony with their own evidence, testimony or experts.

The GAL's fee is usually charged to both parents equally.

The Judge will make his or her own decision on the custody or other issue involving the children.  However, the GAL's report is often sufficient to persuade the parties to compromise and reach a resolution before going to trial.

Return to our main Custody & Visitation page to learn more about child custody, visitation and parenting schedules