What Is A Guardian Ad Litem?

February 26, 2021

Child custody proceedings bring a series of difficult decisions and compromises. Colorado courts’ primary goal in determining child custody cases is the welfare of the child involved. If you are going through a divorce or other proceeding involving a child custody dispute, the court may make the determination to appoint a guardian ad litem during the litigation. There is often confusion about what a guardian ad litem is and what role they play.  At Johnson Law Group, we support our clients in all areas of family law and work to ensure the children involved are protected. Call us today at (720) 730-4558 to set up a meeting with one of our Colorado family lawyers.

What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?

When parents cannot agree on what is best for the child, sometimes the court must get involved. A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person who is court-appointed to represent the interests of a child during a child custody proceeding. A GAL is not always necessary, but they may be appointed in particularly contentious cases or cases where there is reason to believe one or both of the parents is likely to abuse or neglect the child. However, it is important to understand that abuse or neglect does not have to exist in order for a GAL to be appointed by the court.

Typically, the GAL is a lawyer who helps the court determine what is best for the child. The reason the child must often be appointed a guardian during a child custody proceeding is that their parents, who are typically their guardians, disagree on a course of action, and the child themselves do not always have the capacity to identify which custody arrangement would be best for them. Thus, an objective third party steps in to investigate the child’s living conditions and make recommendations to the court, even if those recommendations are contrary to the child’s stated wishes.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

The general purpose of the guardian ad litem is to protect the interests of the child during the custody proceedings, but one important distinction to understand about a guardian ad litem is that they are not involved in the day-to-day care or decision-making for the child. Rather, their role is limited to matters relating to the litigation at issue. Some of the tasks a guardian ad litem may need to do in a child custody case include:

  • Investigating the child’s living arrangements
  • Requesting drug or psychiatric evaluations
  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Make reports
  • Share findings with the court
  • Attend hearings
  • Appeal the court’s decision, if needed

What Do I Need to Know About Working with a Guardian Ad Litem?

If you are going through a child custody proceeding as a parent, it is important to understand how to interact with a guardian ad litem.

Cooperate with Their Investigation

The GAL will need to talk to both parents and other family and friends to conduct their investigation. Be sure to remain courteous and helpful, providing any documents the guardian ad litem needs in order to accurately create their report and make recommendations to the judge. Some of these documents may include:

  • Income records, such as pay stubs or tax returns
  • Medical records
  • School records
  • Criminal records
  • Documentation relating to other past or pending litigation
  • Monitoring compliance with child custody orders

Make Sure They Are Paid

GAL’s must be paid for their services. Payment for a GAL is administered through the Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative. Fees may be allocated between the parties or paid by the state. Parties may be able to waive the fee if they can prove they earn below a certain income threshold.

Keep Your Home Suitable

The GAL will most likely need to visit the residences of each of the parents as they investigate the child custody issues. They will want to see where the child would be living, so make sure your home is always presentable and ready for the GAL to stop by and inspect. Act natural, and allow the GAL to see how you and your child interact in a natural environment.

Do Not Disparage Your Ex-Spouse

Although most parents want to prove that the child will be better off living with them than with their ex-spouse, it is not a good idea to speak badly about your ex-spouse with the GAL. Children thrive in stable, consistent environments, and it can be traumatic for children to see their parents fighting or being aggressive. It may reflect poorly if the GAL believes you are likely to try to influence your child to think poorly of their other parent.

Remember the GAL’s Goal

It may seem unnatural that a third party is acting on behalf of your child’s interest. While, at the end of the day, the parents are the legal guardians of the child, the GAL is meant to ensure that heated, contentious divorces result in a fair and healthy outcome for the child. You may think you know what is best for a child, but when parents disagree, a third party can help provide a neutral perspective. Be sure to respect this boundary and remain respectful to the GAL throughout the proceeding. Failing to comply with a GAL’s request can reflect badly and impact their recommendations.

Know Your Rights

Although the GAL can be a very powerful role, you have a right to know how they reached their recommendations. If you want to view the documentation that informed the GAL’s decisions, you can submit a written request before the hearing. In some cases, you have the right to appeal their decision. Visiting with an experienced family law attorney at Johnson Law Group can help you better understand your options when dealing with a guardian ad litem.

Trust Our Colorado Estate and Family Lawyers

At Johnson Law Group, our experienced family lawyers have the knowledge and an understanding of what a guardian ad litem is and how to interact with them. We understand that divorce and other child custody proceedings can be some of the most difficult times of our clients’ lives. While we always strive to reach our clients’ objectives, we also know how important it is to prioritize the best interests of any children involved. If you are going through a child custody dispute, consider speaking with an experienced Colorado family lawyer as soon as possible. Call us at (720) 463-4333 to set up a free consultation.

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