In almost every contested child custody case, the Family Court appoints a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the best interests of the child during the litigation (or at least until the child custody issues are resolved).
The GAL is not typically someone the parents get to choose. In many cases, the parties' attorneys will agree about which GAL to use on a case. However, if the attorneys are not able to agree or if the Judge feels that a particular GAL is most suited for the facts of the case, the Judge can appoint a GAL from a list maintained by the Family Court.
The first time you meet with the GAL will most likely be after your initial or temporary hearing in Family Court. Working with the GAL can become vitally important to the outcome of your child custody matter, so here are three tips for working with a Guardian ad Litem and making sure this relationship is as positive and productive as possible:
1. Be Prompt.
When you first receive the information about the GAL or a request from the GAL's office to set up your initial interview, be prompt in making contact. If the GAL has to track you down, or worse yet, never hears anything from you, his or her investigation becomes almost impossible to be truly impartial and balanced.
Plus, when she testifies to the Court about all the various ways she or her office attempted to find you or contact you and it becomes clear to the Court that all reasonable efforts were made, but you chose not to answer them, the conclusion the Court may make about the priority you give to your children will probably not help your custody case.
2. Be Honest.
The GAL's job is to investigate and be a fact-finder for the Court from an unbiased and impartial position. The GAL is also expected to use the facts which are uncovered during her investigation to draw conclusions about what is or is not in the child's best interests going forward.
Most GAL's issue written questionnaires or have series of questions they will ask verbally during the course of the investigation. One of the worst things you can do for your custody case is to withhold information or to lie about anything to the GAL.
Remember, the GAL will be talking to a variety of witnesses and reviewing many, many documents prepared by others but which related to the custody issues in your case. If you are caught lying about information, especially when that information is easily verifiable as a lie through other independent sources, your credibility with the GAL and the Court may be irreparably damaged.
3. Never Coach Your Child.
In order to be a Certified GAL in the Family Court system, one must maintain a certain number of hours in continuing legal education (CLE) credits in the areas of custody and visitation every year. Most GALs take more than the required amount of CLE hours in these areas because the science in these fields is always developing and offering new insight for the best way to help families in these situations. Therefore, most GALs have experience and training which will make it possible for them to spot signs that a child has been “coached” or “encouraged” to take certain positions with regard to the custody situation.
While it may be scary to trust this unknown person to properly interview your child or to trust that your child will be honest with someone who is virtually a stranger, you absolutely must do so. Your child has two parents and also has a right, in the eyes of the family court, to love each parent naturally and without impediments created by either parent. If you are caught coaching your child, there will almost always be negative repercussions for your case.