Are you going through a divorce in which child custody is an issue? Perhaps you’re not married, but are in a custody dispute with your child’s other parent? If so, you should consider seeking the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) for your child.
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem is a person with special training regarding the needs of children and the court process. All guardians ad litem must be appointed by the court. When appointed, a GAL conducts investigations outside the courtroom and makes recommendations to the court about what result will be in the best interest of any minors involved in the case.
The court order appointing a specific person to fill this role establishes the purpose of the guardian ad litem’s investigation. For example, a guardian can be appointed to determine where the minor children should live, or what school they should attend. This court order also establishes specific things the GAL must do in the course of the investigation. This almost always includes meeting with the parties and visiting with the minor children in the home(s) where they live. Orders often include interviewing specific people who have important information about minor children, such as teachers, doctors, or counselors.
A guardian ad litem completes a thorough investigation outside of court proceedings. They then present their findings and recommendations to the court in a formal report. This report informs the parties about the strengths and weaknesses of their case and often helps them to agree to compromise and settle the matter. If the case does not settle, the guardian ad litem can be a vital resource to the judge at trial.
When a case goes to trial, the judge only sees a snapshot of a family’s life through witnesses and exhibits. The GAL has a much more comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of the family dynamics as a result of their investigation. Therefore, when cases go to trial, the judge relies greatly on the findings and recommendations of the GAL.
Why Should I Use a Guardian Ad Litem?
Guardians ad litem provide minor children with a voice. Most people prefer to not have their children testify in front of a judge because court can be very stressful. However, parents do want to ensure that their children’s voices and opinions are heard.
Guardians ad litem are required to inform the court of the preferences of minor children, even if the guardian does not find these are in the best interest of the minor children. By giving the children a voice in the courtroom, a GAL can usually eliminate the need for children to go through the ordeal of testifying in court.
Deciding on a particular guardian ad litem is an important decision. Although only the court has the authority to appoint a guardian ad litem, the parties can ask the court to appoint someone specific as long as the person is a rostered guardian ad litem in the State of Maine.
Rudman Winchell has rostered guardians ad litem. We also have experienced family law attorneys that can help you determine whether a GAL is right for your case. Court cases involving minor children are often extremely complicated and emotionally taxing. We encourage you to contact an experienced family law attorney regarding your case and whether it may benefit from the services of a guardian ad litem.
Caitlyn S. Smith| Associate
The Graham Building | 84 Harlow Street
P.O. Box 1401 | Bangor, Maine 04402
tel: 207.947.4501 | fax: 207.941.9715