What is a guardian ad litem?
A guardian ad litem (“GAL”) is an attorney appointed by the court to investigate a case and report its findings and recommendations to the court. The investigation, report, and recommendations are based upon the best interests of the child. The GAL is a lawyer for the child and works in the best interests of the child. Every GAL has had education, training, and experience in regards to the needs of children.
A GAL may also be appointed to represent anyone who is under 18, an incompetent person (for example, someone with a mental disability), or someone who is currently in jail. However, that is not the focus of this article.
What is the role of a GAL?
The GAL acts as an investigator for the court. The GAL investigates all aspects of the case, writes a report about his or her findings, and also gives recommendations to the court as to what should happen to the child. The GAL works in the best interests of the child. The investigation is very in-depth. The GAL talks to you, your child, and people who know what type of relationship you have with your child. The GAL also looks at various documents and information that helps them with their investigation and recommendations.
When will a GAL be appointed?
A GAL is appointed when the court has reasonable cause to suspect the parenting issues involve a child’s safety or the best interest of the child warrants further investigation. A GAL is also appointed when serious allegations of abuse and neglect or issues relating to the child’s health and safety are raised. The specific reasons for the appointment are usually listed in the Order appointing the GAL.
How long will I be working with the GAL?
You will work with the GAL as long as it takes to complete his or her investigation. The GAL will also be present at all court hearings and will respond to any motions and appeals which affect their recommendations or the interests of the child while the case is pending. A majority of the time, the GAL stays on the case until the final hearing. The GAL may also be required to monitor the case for a reasonable time afterwards to make sure that parties are complying with the court order.
Is there a fee for a GAL? If so, can I waive the fee?
Yes, there is a fee for a GAL. Fortunately, you may be able to waive the fee by filling out the appropriate paperwork. You can access the paperwork here (the document that you want is the “Financial Affidavit and Application: Eligibility for Waiver of Fees, Costs, or Security in a Civil or Domestic Case, etc.”). You can also pick up the paperwork at the circuit court clerk’s office.
When filing out the Fee Wavier form make sure to: (1) read the instructions very carefully. Especially when it comes to reporting dollar amounts. One section asks you to record yearly totals while another section asks you to record monthly totals; (2) Be as accurate as possible; (3) State on the form that it would be a hardship if you have to pay the fees; (4) Submit documentation of every source of income. If you do not, the paperwork will not be processed. Make sure you are giving the court copies of this documentation, not the originals.
What are some tips for working with Guardians Ad Litem?
1. Communication and cooperation are key when it comes to working with the GAL. You will be working with the GAL for a while, so it is best to keep a good relationship between you and the GAL. Make sure to keep the GAL informed of everything that is going on. It is also important to stay honest with the GAL at all times. Lying will not help you, it will only hurt you.
2. Always be available by phone. If you are unable to answer when the GAL calls, make sure to return their call in a timely manner. If your number changes, inform your GAL immediately.
3. The GAL needs to be provided with various types of documents and information to help them understand and investigate the case. To simplify the process, it would be beneficial for you to obtain the documents and information that the GAL will need. When you get the documents and information, make a copy of it for the GAL. Be sure to make copies for yourself and for the court as well. You may also have to sign a release so that the GAL can obtain some of this information. Examples of what the GAL will need include:
- school/daycare records,
- medical records,
- Child Protective Services reports,
- pay stubs,
- counseling/therapy records,
- criminal records,
- records of court cases involving anyone living in the house, etc.
4. GALs will sometimes request that the parents undergo psychological evaluations, parental fitness evaluations, and even drug screens. It is extremely important to cooperate and go through with any evaluation/screening that the GAL requests.
5. In regards to drug screens, a missed drug screen is the same as failing a drug screen. Make sure that you are not taking any medication unless you have a current, valid prescription and can give information about the doctor and why you need the medication.
6. GALs can have a great deal of influence on what happens a case. However, they are not a judge. They report their findings and give recommendations to the judge. They do not make the final ruling as to what happens to your child. Remember: the GAL is a lawyer for the child and represents the child’s best interests.
7. Chances are, the GAL will be making a home visit. The purpose of this home visit is to observe the living environment and to view the child/caretaker interactions. Some of these home visits may be unannounced. Make sure that your house is always clean and is a suitable place to have a child in. Also, you should not act differently when the GAL comes to visit. The GAL will be able to tell if you are putting on a show. Just be yourself. Do not have people who don’t live at the house lingering around during home visits.
8. You have a right to see any of the documents that a GAL used to write your recommendation. If you want to see any of the documents, ask before the hearing and ask in writing.