The Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Alabama

picture of a girl cutting paper representation of a family to illustrate the idea of a divorceWhen children are involved in divorce, things can get complicated quickly. On top of figuring out how assets will be divided, parents are tasked with agreeing on a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children. In a perfect world, parents would not be selfish or overly confrontational in deciding custody, but the world is not perfect. Sometimes parents can not come to a civil agreement and the best interests of the child get lost in the shuffle. While likely not intentional, it is still an unfortunate reality of divorce and one that needs to be addressed so that the child’s interests are looked after. In Alabama, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is often assigned to a case in order to look out for the best interests of the child.

The term “ad litem” literally means “for the lawsuit.” A guardian is one who is supposed to help and protect another, while looking out for that person’s best interests. A GAL is appointed by a judge in a divorce to represent the child. Most often, a GAL is appointed when there the divorce involves a contested child custody dispute.

When is a GAL Used?

GALs are often assigned when there is a contested child custody matter. Contested child custody means that the parents are in an often heated battle to receive custody of the child. Unfortunately, a parent may get so wrapped up in the emotions and turmoil of a divorce that he or she loses sight of what is in the best interest of the children. A GAL is assigned so that there is always at least one person in the children’s corner, looking out for their best interests. The court wants to make sure that there is always someone protecting the children, even if their parents are momentarily distracted with their own problems.

What Does the GAL do?

The paragraph above states that a GAL is assigned to look out for the best interests of the child. What exactly does this mean? What actions are taken to look out for the child? A GAL looks out for the interests of the child in a variety of ways. Generally, the GAL will make recommendations for child custody and visitation for the parents. The recommendations come from an independent investigation so that they can come to their own conclusion. It is important to note that the judge is not required to follow the GAL’s recommendation; the report is purely informational. While the recommendation is not binding, the GAL’s report is usually taken  seriously.

The Investigation

To come to a conclusion and make a recommendation to the judge, the GAL will often interview a wide variety of people involved in the child’s life. The GAL will interview the child, the child’s parents, counselors, teachers, grandparents, friends of the family, and other caregivers. Additionally, if child protective services were involved in the family’s life, the GAL will likely interview them to find out additional information. When interviewing the child, the GAL is careful to listen to the child’s opinion, but not lose sight of the best interests of the child if that is contrary to the child’s wishes.

You can prepare for the investigation by the GAL. While there is no guarantee what the GAL might ask you, it is best to be prepared for questions about your parenting style, problems in the marriage, and why an agreement can not be reached among the parents. It can also be helpful to have documents ready for the GAL should they ask. For example, school records, pay stubs, any reports by child protective services, counseling records, or court records are just a few of the documents that might be used in the GAL’s investigation. It is important to not become defensive with the GAL and remember that they are only looking out for the best interests of the child. They are not looking to find out every minute detail of your life, but are looking for an overall picture of your life and the life of the child.

The best way to be prepared for a GAL investigation and child custody dispute is to be honest with the GAL and consult with an experienced family law attorney. The family law attorneys at Massey, Stotser & Nichols, PC are here to help you. We know that this is a difficult time. Child custody can be a sensitive topic and no one wants to think that they are not looking out for the best interest of their children. We approach child custody with care, compassion, and the right amount of strategy to get the best result of the possible under the circumstances. Contact us today for a consultation.

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