How Can a Guardian Ad Litem Help My Custody Case?
What Does a GAL Do in Family Law Matters in Viera?
By: Bonnie Klein Rhoden, Esquire
Sometimes cases involving children – either divorce or paternity – can become adversarial. This manifests in different ways depending upon the parties involved and sometimes the nature of the attorneys can impact the adversarial nature of a case. When parents of a minor child disagree and one or both feel the child’s best interests will be served a Guardian Ad Litem can be appointed. Upon request by one or both parties and if the Judge finds that it is in the best interests of the minors, a “Guardian ad Litem” can be appointed by the court. Your Judge on his or her own belief of the need for one can make the appointment independently. The title “Guardian ad Litem” is translated literally to a guardian for the lawsuit, or a guardian for the purposes of the legal action. The application of a GAL in family matters is to advise the court on the topic of the child’s best interests and not to advocate for either party or the child.
The GAL will investigate facts of the case –talk with the parents, the child, the school, counselors, relatives, friends, physicians, and other important witnesses in the case. The GAL will then report to the court what his/her findings are and what he/she recommends to the court. The Guardian Ad Litem’s role is to act only in the best interests of the child. The Guardian can request the court to order evaluations for the children and/or the parents and can also assist with finding experts for examinations or evaluations. The results of those evaluations can and often are part of the GAL’s report to the Judge.
The purpose and scope of a Guardian ad Litem’s work is mentioned in Florida’s case law (case law refers to past cases that have been published on similar issues that act as guidance to Judges as new decisions are made) as promoting our society’s overall interest in protecting children from the adversarial effects common to divorce and custody disputes. But according to Florida law a guardian ad litem is not a mediator in the matter but rather a guardian can try to move the case to a constructive result while respecting his/her primary role of reporting to the court and providing his/her recommendations.
Often it is seen in Brevard County that Judges in family law matters place great weight on the reports and recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem. Sometimes the Judge will select the person to serve as the Guardian ad Litem and at times the attorneys in the case can propose persons to serve. But the final decision is made by the Judge and often that GAL is chosen due to his/her experience and reputation as the person who can provide reasoned observations and just recommendations. The person appointed as a Guardian ad Litem must be either an attorney preferably with family law experience or someone certified by Florida’s Guardian Ad Litem program. The State of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program trains and certifies volunteers to serve as volunteer Guardian ad Litems in DCF or dependency cases – these types of cases are not in family court but involve allegations of abuse, abandonment or neglect. Those matters involve the Department of Children and Family investigating an allegation of abandonment, abuse, or neglect (including a failure to protect) and removed a child from the parent or guardian’s home.
Although Guardian ad Litems usually serve as volunteers in DCF cases it is different in family court cases such as divorce, post dissolution, or paternity cases, Guardian ad Litems are paid by the parties. If the guardian agrees to serve for reduced fee or pro bono (no fee) the Order from the Judge will outline the work of the GAL, the payment terms, and who is responsible for the fees (one or both parents).
We have experienced family law attorneys who can serve as a Guardian Ad Litems for matters before the family court. We also keep an ongoing list of other attorneys in the area who can serve as GALs in our clients’ cases. It is important to choose wisely as the GAL in your matter can be the turning point for the end decision of the court.
Use the Contact form at the top right of this page to email our office for a free consultation. You may also call or text the office 321-549-3162, to speak to one of our experienced family law attorneys and divorce lawyers.