Do I need a Guardian Ad Litem in my family case?
What is a GAL?
Bonnie Rhoden, Esquire
Florida judges may decide to appoint a guardian ad litem in a high-conflict divorce or paternity/child custody case to investigate the disagreements related to the children. The purpose is generally to ensure a child’s best interests are represented. If you have a dispute in your family law case you may be interested in having a guardian ad litem appointed. You should understand the role of a guardian ad litem in your family law case.
Tell me what a Guardian Ad Litem is?
Under Florida Statutes §61.403, a guardian ad litem is a court-appointed representative ordered to act as the ‘next friend’ of the children. A GAL is NOT a child’s “lawyer” nor may they “advocate.” It is more accurate to think of a guardian ad litem as an investigator or an evaluator who makes recommendations to the court. The recommendations of a GAL are typically highly regarded by the Judge or Magistrate.
What is Florida’s Standard?
“Best Interests of the Child”
Under Florida Statute §61.13, our family law courts use a “best interests of the child” legal standard when making determinations timesharing matters. The guardian ad litem is expected to be a neutral party who helps ensure a child’s needs are considered and protected. This includes primarily the physical needs and safety, psychological well-being, and emotional needs of the children are properly protected. In the report he/she makes recommendations to the court using the factors set forth in Florida Statute § 61.13 and §61.13001, if the case involves a relocation.
What does the GAL do?
The GAL is focused on discovering facts about the parties, the child or children and the people regularly involved in the childrens’ lives. In high-conflict family law cases in Brevard County, Florida, this court appointed GAL will almost always be an experienced family law attorney.
The appointed person serves as an investigator working for the court, with the main purpose of determining what situations are best for the children in the matter. The guardian ad litem takes his/her instructions from the Judge’s Order and can address any issues such as: relocation, parental responsibility or decision-making, timesharing, parental alienation, and more.
The GAL usually conducts interviews of both parents (and step-parents, paramours, grandparents). He/she will also speak to the child – maybe more than once. The investigation will be thorough and typically include home visits to both parents’ homes, as well as interviews with the child’s teachers, counselors, physicians, grandparents, and other important people in the child’s life. A GAL will review the filings in the court record and all other important records in the case. The parents should have open communication and a courteous relationship with the GAL, remembering the GAL’s opinion is highly regarded by the court.
GAL Recommendations are Taken Seriously.
Florida family law court judges take the recommendations of a guardian ad litem very seriously. The guardian ad litem functions in a “friend of the court” role and provides the Judge with information that the court may not receive – such as hearsay statements. The guardian ad litem’s view of the case and recommendations are important to the court and the hearsay statements by the child, counselors, teachers can make the overall cost of a GAL worth it. The Judge can make the best decision when fully informed – a GAL assists the court in being apprised of all the facts.
If you have a divorce with children, a paternity case, or a modification of custody / timesharing matter you need a strong attorney with experience using all the tools available to get the best result possible. Call or text the office at 321-549-3162 or use the Contact email form on this site. Initial phone consultations are always a courtesy.