Family law cases can involve intense emotions. When children are also concerned, these already emotional cases may become highly contentious. Unfortunately, these cases can then develop into what many people think of when referring to “custody battles.” Often, one or both parents have reasons that cause them to believe the other parent should have less, restricted, or no contact with the child. Despite this stereotypical image of parents involved in a “custody battle,” most parents want to do what is best for their children. They may feel so strongly about issues surrounding the child that they would like their child’s opinions, thoughts, or preferences heard by the judge. However, most parents are surprised to discover it is very rare for courts to allow a child to testify. The rationale is that allowing a child to testify involves a child directly in his or her parents’ litigation, putting the child in the awkward and often damaging position of choosing sides.
What Is A Guardian Ad Litem?
These types of cases are when a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is not only beneficial, but sometimes necessary. A GAL can provide a voice for the child or children in a family law matter. Moreover, a GAL is completely impartial; the GAL does not take sides with either parent or anyone else involved in the case. A GAL’s role is not as an attorney for either the parents or the child; instead, the GAL works solely to advance the child’s best interests. Pursuant to Florida law (Florida Statute, 61.403), in order to advance a child’s best interests, a GAL has the powers and responsibilities to investigate allegations concerning the child and interview witnesses that have possible information regarding the child. If appropriate under the circumstances, the GAL will also speak to the child.
Why Is A Gal Important?
One of the most advantageous powers a GAL has is that they are able to address the Court directly. Following the GAL’s investigation, the GAL files a written report that makes recommendations to the Court and may also contain a statement of the child’s wishes. In this way, a GAL ensures a child’s voice is heard, making sure that their feelings and needs are expressed to the Court. The GAL may make recommendations on specific time-sharing schedules and any other issues concerning the child. The Court customarily gives a great amount of consideration to a GAL’s recommendations. Essentially, a GAL’s report provides a roadmap guiding the Court in making decisions on what is best for the child. Further, a GAL is an essential part of the case. They must be provided with notice for all events that would relate to the children in the case. Thus, not only must a GAL attend hearings, mediations, depositions, etc. on a case to which they have been appointed, but the GAL must also approve of any settlements involving the children.
How Does A Gal Get Involved In A Family Law Matter?
A GAL may be appointed to a case upon the Court’s own initiative or upon the request of either parent. A GAL’s fees are paid by the parents, and due to the often contentious and complicated nature of these cases, these fees can be high. The attorneys at Artemis Family Law Group can make these potential fees less daunting by offering a sliding scale retainer based on the combined income of the parties. If you believe your family law matter requires the expertise and focus of a GAL, the attorneys at Artemis Family Law Group are prepared to become your child’s advocate and voice. Please contact us if you would like to discuss further how your case and children can benefit from the work of a GAL.
Frequently Asked Questions
A Guardian ad Litem or GAL is an impartial person who advocates for the best interest of a child or children involved in a family law case. A GAL conducts an investigation and writes a report containing their recommendations on issues related to the child or children.
GALs can either be appointed by the Court when they believe the matter requires a GAL or either parent can request a GAL. Unless the parents agree to the involvement of a GAL and also, to a particular GAL, then the parent wanting the GAL would have to motion the Court to appoint one.
The short answer is – No. A GAL must be unbiased and their sole focus is on promoting the best interests of the child in the case. The GAL is essentially an independent factfinder that conducts an investigation to make recommendations to the Court, helping the Court make decisions relating to the child. If each parent were allowed to separately hire their own GAL, this would affect the impartiality required, be confusing to the child, and would be comparable to dueling expert witnesses.
How Much Does A Gal Cost And Who Pays The GAL?
Different GALs have different retainer amounts and hourly rates. Some GALs work on a sliding scale, basing their retainers and hourly rates on the incomes of the parents. Usually, both parents share the fees and costs of the GAL. Often, the Court can later reapportion these fees, if necessary.