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

Child custody cases, whether as part of a divorce case or otherwise, can be emotionally draining for everyone involved, parents and children alike. It’s not uncommon for children to become so emotionally triggered or upset that they struggle to act in their children’s best interests. When it’s unclear what’s best for the child or who is capable of caring for the child, a Guardian ad Litem (also shortened to GAL) can advocate for the child in question.

 If you’re struggling to figure out your next step in a child custody case, it’s time to talk to the team at Olmstead & Olmstead. Give us a call at 703-361-1555 to schedule your free consultation right away.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

The phrase “guardian ad litem” means “guardian for the suit.” This means that the role of the GAL is to help the court figure out the circumstances and factors of a case. In family law, that means advocating for the child, since child custody is always based on the child’s best interests.

The GAL is an attorney appointed by the court to assess the facts of the child custody case and make recommendations based on those findings. The GAL should be completely neutral and should not be biased toward or against either parent.

What the Guardian ad Litem Does

Before making their recommendations to the court, the Guardian ad Litem should have a clear picture of the child custody case, the child’s needs, and the ability of each parent to meet those needs. Their responsibilities, as outlined by Virginia’s Judicial System, may include:

  • Looking into the case: The GAL should meet the child face-to-face and interview them in a way that is appropriate for their age and developmental stage, investigate the living environment at both parent’s homes, and get a better understanding of what life is like for the child at both homes.
  • Creating recommendations for the court: As the investigation unfolds, the GAL should start to figure out what type of custody schedule would be best for the child. When they provide their recommendations to the court, they should provide relevant evidence supporting their suggestions.
  • Advocating for the child: The Guardian ad Litem is there to serve the court and the child, not the parents. Their job is not to protect the parenting rights of either parent but to ensure that the child ends up with the best custody arrangement for their needs. This may mean advocating for them in a way that does not align with what either parent wants.
  • Considering the child’s current and future needs: The recommendations made by the Guardian ad Litem could lead to a significant change in custody or visitation rights. For that reason, GAL’s recommendations have a very real impact on a child’s life. They must think about the various ways their recommendations could change a child’s life.

Benefits of a Guardian ad Litem

Even if you know that you are acting rationally and in the best interest of your child, it can be hard to prove that if you are co-parenting with a highly contentious or manipulative parent. Bringing in a neutral third party who can observe the facts of your case and report those back to the court can strengthen your claim. A GAL makes a fair outcome more likely and ensures that the child’s needs are prioritized in the courtroom.

Downsides of a Guardian ad Litem

Hiring a Guardian ad Litem can be helpful in many ways, but it does also have its downsides. In Virginia, the Guardian ad Litem is generally paid a fixed fee that comes from the petitioner. This can make an already-expensive family court case even more financially draining. Additionally, you may find that having a Guardian ad Litem makes your case drag on longer. They need time to conduct their investigation and draft their recommendations, so you may have to wait longer for a final ruling.

Choose Olmstead & Olmstead for Your Family Law Needs

Child custody cases can be stressful and unpredictable. Having the right attorney by your side can help you maintain your peace and advocate for your child. Set up a time to talk to our team now by calling us at 703-361-1555 or filling out our online contact form.

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