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The Role of Guardian ad Litem in Divorce and Child Custody Cases

Even in the most amicable and cooperative divorces, it’s rare for there to be zero disagreements regarding child custody. Both parents often have a very natural fear of losing their child or having the other parent manipulate the case in their favor, even if both are actually willing to work together for a fair custody agreement. When parents are unable to come to an agreement and the judge deems it necessary, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to the case.

Learn more about what a guardian ad litem does, and when you’re ready for more personalized advice regarding your family law case, call John H. Ruby & Associates at 502-895-2626.

When is a Guardian Ad Litem Needed?

A guardian ad litem, often shortened to GAL, may be needed in cases where a child’s best interests are in question. Children are unable to advocate for themselves in court, and even if they are able to make their wishes known, there’s always a risk that their input will have been coached by one or both parents. When it’s difficult to discern the best interests of the child or there is a lot at stake, the court may recommend a GAL. Some of these scenarios include:

  • Disputes over custody and visitation: If both parents claim to be the best primary caretaker for the child and there is no room for compromise, a GAL may be necessary to determine what is actually best for the child in question.
  • Abuse and neglect: If there are allegations of abuse or neglect in a custody case, the child’s well-being is in danger. The court may appoint a GAL to investigate and determine where the child should be placed.
  • Special needs children: When a case involves children who are not developmentally delayed, their input can often be useful. However, when special needs children are involved, they may not have the ability to advocate for themselves or talk about what is going on in both homes. Additionally, their specific needs may be better met at one home.
  • Relocation: If one parent decides to relocate with the child, the other parent may petition the court to stop the move until a court date can be assigned. A GAL may be asked to look into the child’s life at both homes and determine what outcome is best for them.

Their Role and Responsibility

A guardian ad litem is supposed to be an impartial, neutral party whose only obligation is to the court and to the child they represent. The recommendations they make to the court must be rooted in solid evidence and a thorough investigation. This obviously involves talking to both parents, often multiple times. They may also set up times to talk to the child’s teachers, medical providers, babysitters, daycare providers, and others involved in their life.

When they talk to these people, they are looking for information about how the child thrives in each parent’s case, which parent is more involved in the child’s day-to-day routine and ongoing needs, and if there are any red flags the guardian ad litem should take into consideration. Once they believe they have all the information they need, they can make their recommendations to the court.

Working With a Guardian ad Litem

It’s important to cooperate with the guardian ad litem, answer their questions in full, and provide any information that may help them better understand your child’s situation and needs. They are not an enemy, and any refusal to work with them could work against you in court. Furthermore, it’s important to think about how your responses may affect how the GAL looks at you. Yes, you have to be honest—but you don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty details of your divorce. Stick to topics that relate directly to your children and show the guardian ad litem that your top priority is what’s best for your child.

Discuss Your Family Law Needs with John H. Ruby & Associates

Having the right Louisville family law attorney by your side can make a huge difference when you’re navigating a divorce or child custody dispute. Set up a consultation with our team now by calling us at 502-895-2626 or sending us a message online to get started.