The court just appointed a guardian ad litem in my divorce or custody case. Now what?

April 12, 2017

To assist the court in making rulings on custody and visitation in a contested divorce, modification, guardianship or other case involving custody of a minor child, it may appoint – on its own or at the request of the parties – a “guardian ad litem” or “GAL”.  A GAL is treated by the law as an officer of the court and serves the child(ren)’s best interests during the course of the litigation.  The GAL essentially is the eyes and ears of the trial court judge who will be making the custody and visitation rulings, and in that role, he or she meets with the parents, the child(ren), perhaps the child(ren)’s teachers, family friends and other relevant collateral witnesses who have first-hand knowledge of how each parent interacts with the child(ren).  The GAL may also collect school records, medical, dental and/or mental health records, conduct internet research on the parents and things the parents tell him or her and will want to observe each parent interacting with the child(ren) and often do so more than once, depending on the length of time he or she has for the investigation, whether there are any delays in getting the custody and visitation issues to a final hearing and whether there are any new developments or concerns he or she needs to investigate after making his or her initial custody and visitation recommendations.  The GAL does not represent the child(ren), just the child(ren)’s “best interests”.  While the GAL will want to know the child(ren)’s wishes, that is not the end of the matter, because even when a child is old enough to “elect” or choose which parent he or she wants to live with, the court may not issue a custody order that goes along with the child’s wishes, because custody and visitation rulings are always informed by what is in the child(ren)’s best interests.