When parents and children share a close bond, their connection is unlike any other in their lives. Given this nearness, it is hardly surprising that child custody can be one of the most contentious matters heard by a family court. The court must consider what is best for the child when deciding how his or her relationship with each parent will be defined. When divorcing or separated parents have a high degree of conflict regarding decisions about their children, Florida law provides that the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to assist during the case. Here is what you need to know about the guardian ad litem and how he or she could impact your custody case.
The Guardian ad Litem
A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is an individual who can be appointed by the court in a divorce or parenting plan modification case to evaluate what is in the child’s best interest. Under Florida law, the GAL will have the authority to examine the child’s medical, school, mental health, and any other relevant records. The GAL can also interview the child, parents, extended family, any professionals who have recently seen the child, and any other relevant individuals.
When Can a GAL be Appointed?
A family court can appoint a GAL in a child custody matter whenever it believes it is in the child’s best interest. These appointments are usually made when parents are unable to agree on fundamental issues such as where the child will reside, how often he or she will having parenting time with each parent, and decision-making. Both parents may be required to pay for the GAL’s expenses and services.
The GAL is essentially going to serve as the eyes and ears of the court when it comes to looking out for the child. To perform this function, he or she will be responsible for reviewing all pleadings in the case, meeting with the child and all other relevant individuals and reviewing all pertinent records and documents. Once the GAL has gathered information, he or she will file a written report with the court regarding issues such as parenting time, decision-making and a statement as to the wishes of the child. The GAL report can be a critical document for the court and for purposes of negotiation between the parties.
When a GAL appointment becomes necessary in a custody case, it is usually a strong indicator that the parents are having significant problems managing their differences. While having this third-party’s perspective can be illuminating, it is usually far better for the children and the family’s future relationship if the parents can put their personal feelings to the side and come to an agreement on their own. Otherwise, parents risk being bound to terms which they do not have any control over creating. Additionally, the ongoing conflict between parents harms children with or without the appointment of a GAL.
If you have a child custody issue, you need an experienced family law attorney to provide you with the guidance you require to protect your child’s best interest. At the Draper Firm, we have child custody attorneys who are ready to advocate for you. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation. We invite you to learn more about our firm here.