It is not uncommon for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem during contentious custody battles. A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an independent party with the task of protecting and advocating for your child’s best interests. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a GAL as “a guardian, usually a lawyer, appointed by the court to appear in a lawsuit on behalf of an incompetent or minor party.”
In Virginia, Rule 8:6 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia sets forth the role of a GAL:
“The role of counsel for a child is the representation of the child’s legitimate interests. When appointed for a child, the guardian ad litem shall vigorously represent the child, fully protecting the child’s interest and welfare. The guardian ad litem shall advise the court of the wishes of the child in any case where the wishes of the child conflict with the opinion of the guardian ad litem as to what is in the child’s interest and welfare.”
Outside of this mandate, GALs are free to do whatever they feel is necessary to protect your child’s best interest. This typically includes meeting with you and your child’s other parent, meeting with the child, contacting your child’s teachers, therapists, coaches and doctors to obtain an understanding of what is going on in your child’s life and what issues are or may be affecting your child – especially as they pertain to the custody proceeding, and GALs are also authorized to review relevant records of your child such as medical records, school records and court documents.
Moreover, GALs are permitted to and frequently do conduct home studies. This means that the GAL can come to your home, observe the environment there and draft a report indicating the home conditions and how it impacts your child’s health, safety and welfare.
As you can imagine, it is extremely important to form an amicable or cordial relationship with the GAL in your custody case. Make sure to contact the GAL regularly and keep him or her apprised of what is happening in your child’s life. This will show the GAL that you are concerned and taking an active role in the process. Also remain courteous and truthful in your interviews and conversations with the GAL, and avoid bashing or trash talking the other parent involved in your custody battle. Remember, you are always under observation when the GAL is around and you want to avoid doing or saying anything that will hurt your custody case.
Additionally, you always want to copy the GAL on any and all court documents in your case (pleadings, motions, etc.), and the GAL is free to file pleadings and motions on your child’s behalf in your case.
After the GAL has conducted a home study and home visits, and had the opportunity to interview the parents, teachers, doctors, etc., the GAL will have to report to the judge in your case on their findings and observations, and will provide recommendations. Sometimes the GAL will compose a written report, but often times the GAL will give an oral report to the judge in court during your custody case. Once the GAL has concluded, the judge and your attorney will have the opportunity to question the GAL on their recommendations and basis for their opinions.
It should be noted that the GAL’s opinions and recommendations could carry a great deal of weight in any custody battle. This is particularly true in a highly contentious custody case where you are enmeshed in a “he said,” “she said” cycle with your child’s other parent.
If you are involved in a custody battle, whether a GAL is appointed or not, you should always hire an independent family law attorney who knows the law in your jurisdiction and who will fight for your rights. The knowledgeable family lawyers at the DiPietro Family Law Group have decades of experience representing clients in all types of family law matters, and we are here to help you. Call us today for a consultation at (888) 530-4374 or contact us online.