The Role Of A Guardian Ad Litem In Child Custody Cases: Everything You Need to Know

MLF Team

Divorce is usually not the easiest life experience to have to go through. Nevertheless, divorce still happens and there can be many reasons why a marriage does not work out. When children are involved, getting a divorce can become significantly more challenging and emotionally fraught. The division of a family is rarely ideal, but when a romantic relationship has run its course, sometimes the best thing to do for everyone is to part ways. The most important priority for parents who are divorcing is to ensure that the best interests of the children are considered. Depending on the circumstances of a divorce, including if there is a question about the competency of either or both of the parents getting divorced, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to safeguard a child’s interests. For help with divorce, including advice on what to do if a guardian ad litem is appointed in your case, reach out to the seasoned Georgia divorce attorneys at The Millard Law Firm by calling (678) 319-9500 to schedule your free initial consultation.


The Role of a Guardian ad Litem


When a divorcing couple has minor children and there are issues related to custody, a judge may decide that it is necessary to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL). Many GALs are attorneys. Those who are not attorneys will be other qualified professionals that have gone through appropriate training provided by Georgia’s Office of the Child Advocate.


A GAL will investigate a divorcing couple’s situation related to custody. The purpose of the investigation is to review any potential issues and check on parents who are alleged to be unfit. A GAL’s investigations are comprehensive and can include interviews with relatives, visiting the residence of the child, directing potential mental health evaluations, determining a possible need to review confidential records, and more. The GAL will use all evidence and information gathered to formulate their best opinion of what the most ideal custody and visitation arrangements should be to support the best interests of the child to whom they are assigned.


Who Pays for a Guardian ad Litem?


In a private custody case in Georgia, despite a judge determining if a GAL is necessary, payment will come from the divorcing couple. Depending on the financial situation of each, a judge may determine how much one party should pay versus the other. A judge will, however, set limits on GAL rates and fees. All the work that the GAL does will have to be documented, as a GAL is responsible for submitting an itemized billing statement.


Can a Guardian ad Litem Be Biased?


Part of the training required by the Office of the Child Advocate is designed to help eliminate bias. Nevertheless, it is normal for parents to be concerned about this possibility. Sometimes, although not always, a judge will allow each side’s attorneys to provide input on GAL selection. This can help avoid any future contentions that the GAL’s report is unfairly favorable to one side over the other. However, it is important to point out that even in situations where one side may receive an unfavorable report, it is best not to strike out at the GAL and especially not to make reflexive accusations of bias. Judges typically do not look kindly on this behavior.


A parent who receives a less-than-desirable outcome from a GAL’s report has the opportunity to refute it. An attorney at The Millard Law Firm will know how to handle an unfavorable report and even to highlight inaccuracies that may exist.


Will All Divorce Cases in Georgia Require a Guardian ad Litem?


Every divorce case in Georgia is different, and because of this, not every case with children will have a GAL appointed. When there is great contention between the divorcing partners, and especially when there are substantial disputes over how child custody should be arranged, a GAL may be appropriate. In other instances, such as when there are significant concerns and questions over the safety and capability of a parent to care for their child or children, a GAL’s assessment can be helpful in getting to the truth.


Types of Child Custody


When a custody order is established, it will typically remain active until the children are 18 years of age or finish high school, whichever happens first. Still, there may be times when it can be possible to modify a child custody order. A parent who wishes to change the terms of a custody order can file a petition to modify custody.


According to the state of Georgia’s Courts and Corrections Guide, there are two types of child custody. These are physical and legal. Where there is shared legal or physical custody of children, one parent will be chosen as the primary custodial parent. The primary custodial parent may make all financial decisions or decision-making may be split between both parents.


Physical Custody


In a physical custody situation, the child will reside primarily with the parent. In this scenario, the child may sometimes visit with the other parent, but their primary residence is with the parent who has physical custody. The amount of time spent with the non-custodial parent in this situation may vary widely, depending on the determination of the judge in the particular case.


Legal Custody


In a legal custody situation, a parent with this privilege will have the right to make decisions for children. Legal custody is commonly shared between both parents, but assigning primary custody to one parent ensures that in case of disagreement, the situation can be speedily resolved. While sometimes unpleasant for the parent who does not have primary custody, this system can be important in situations for which a decision is time sensitive.


Does the GAL Report Determine the Child Custody Outcome?


The report the GAL makes can, in some situations, have a substantial impact on what the outcome is in a child custody case. Ultimately, though, the GAL’s report is simply a set of recommendations based on what the GAL learned during their investigation. The information in the report is to be used by the judge presiding over the case as a resource to consider when making their final decision. A judge has the authority regarding how much of the report will be used in their decision-making process. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the judge may use their discretion to follow the report’s recommendations completely, only implement some of the recommendations, or reject the report entirely.


Speak With a Georgia Divorce Attorney Today


Divorce can be a stressful life change to have to go through. The process can be even more draining and difficult when you have a child or children, especially if you and your divorcing partner cannot agree on child custody. When a guardian ad litem is appointed to your case, this may only add to the distress you are already feeling. After all, you do not know what a GAL will find or how they will interpret the information they collect. The support of an experienced attorney can help you to feel more secure, knowing that you will have someone on your side fighting for your best interests and guiding you as you work through the child custody portion of your divorce. For assistance with divorce, and to learn more about what a GAL is and what you can expect, call the Georgia divorce attorneys of The Millard Law Firm at (678) 319-9500 to arrange a free initial consultation to discuss your case.