A guardian ad litem is an attorney or a court-appointed advocate who is selected by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in a custody case.
In general, courts are required to appoint a guardian ad litem in any proceeding in which child abuse or neglect is alleged. If a parent alleges the other parent is abusing or neglecting the child, the court will be required to appoint a guardian ad litem to the case to represent the child.
In addition, courts are allowed to appoint a guardian ad litem in any divorce or paternity case when custody, visitation, or child support is contested.
What is the Guardian Ad Litem’s Job in a Child Custody Case?
If a guardian ad litem is appointed in your case, the judge will order the guardian ad litem to do an investigation. The guardian ad litem will go to both parents’ homes, investigate the allegations that are being made by the parents, examine any claims of abuse or neglect, and interview the parents and the kids. The guardian ad litem will also talk with your child’s doctors, daycare providers, counselors, educators, and family members.
14 Dos and Don’ts For Handling Your Interview with the Guardian ad Litem.
When a guardian ad litem is appointed in your case, it is important to know what you need to do. The following is a list of things to do and not do when a guardian ad litem gets appointed in your case.
1. Do contact your guardian ad litem as soon as possible.
The guardian ad litem will want to set up an appointment to inspect your home and interview you and your child. If the guardian ad litem does not call you within two (2) business days of the appointment, you should take the initiative and contact the guardian ad litem yourself. It is important to show the guardian ad litem that you’re taking an active role in the custody evaluation.
Taking the initiative will show the guardian ad litem that you are a responsible parent and that you are concerned about your child’s well-being, and it will help the guardian ad litem determine what custody arrangement is in your child’s best interest.
2. Don’t refuse to provide information to the guardian ad litem.
When it comes to child custody disputes, most topics are fair game. A guardian ad litem can inquire about your parenting and disciplining styles, your work habits, your alcohol and drug use, your finances, and the people you live and spend time with.
3. Do Clean your house.
I can’t emphasize this enough. The guardian ad litem will be inspecting your house and reporting the findings to the court. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression. Do not allow a dirty house to affect the way the guardian ad litem views you as a parent. Even if you are a great parent, the guardian ad litem may not be able to see that if they are distracted by a dirty house.
4. Don’t refuse to answer a guardian ad litem’s questions, even if they are about difficult or sensitive issues.
Remember, the guardian ad litem will be working hard to determine the living arrangement that is in the best interest of your child. That sometimes requires digging into sensitive issues.
5. Do be completely honest with the guardian ad litem.
The guardian ad litem’s job is to conduct an independent investigation. The guardian ad litem will be making a recommendation to the judge. The recommendation of the guardian ad litem is likely to be followed by the judge. If the guardian ad litem catches you in a lie, that could ruin your chances of winning the custody case. Your attorney can always work with the truth. However, if the judge or guardian ad litem believes you are a liar, your attorney will be powerless to assist you. Custody cases often come down to credibility. Don’t lie and lose your credibility with the guardian ad litem.
6. Don’t be argumentative, and raise your voice with the guardian ad litem
Do not let your feelings control you. Despite your best efforts, there may be times during your child custody battle when you will be close to losing your temper. Make sure you do not lose your temper in front of the guardian ad litem. Losing your temper in front of the guardian ad litem will likely hurt your chances of winning your custody case. Although guardian ad litems are skilled at handling difficult custody issues, request a break from the interview if you are about to lose your temper.
7. Do be knowledgeable about your kids and their lives.
Make sure you are prepared to answer questions regarding your children. Learn their grades in school, their teachers’ names, how they are doing in school, their extracurricular activities and interests, and the names of their closest friends. Know their age, birth date, school, medical issues, and medications they may be taking. You would be surprised at how many parents claim to be invested in their kids’ lives but don’t know this basic information.
8. Do not dress like you’re going out to work in the yard when the guardian ad litem comes to your house for the interview. Likewise, do not dress like you are getting ready to go out with the girls for a night on the town.
A guardian ad litem will have difficulty looking past the image you project. Underneath your clothes may lie the heart of a fantastic parent, but appearances can be deceiving. Get a haircut, take a shower, do your hair, and dress professionally.
9. Do what the guardian ad litem asks you to do.
If the guardian ad litem wants you to take a drug test, you should take the test. If the guardian ad litem wants you to take an anger management class, don’t argue; just sign up and take the class. Your refusal will make you appear to be an angry person who always thinks they’re right.
10. Don’t use the guardian ad litem to mediate the custody dispute. The guardian ad litem is not a mediator.
The guardian ad litem is responsible for making a neutral, unbiased recommendation to the judge, not mediating the custody dispute.
11. Do pay the guardian ad litem fees.
You must do this, even if you do not like the work the guardian ad litem has done in the case. Your failure to pay the fees may result in the guardian ad litem asking the court to strike your pleadings and dismiss your case. It is also important that you demonstrate that you are a financially responsible adult. Make sure you pay the guardian ad litem’s bill promptly. Late payment of the fees can reflect poorly on you.
12. Don’t Use your guardian ad litem as your counselor.
Do not call the guardian ad litem to complain about the other parent. There is no point in venting your frustrations to the guardian ad litem about your spouse or the legal system. Consistently complaining about the other parent only demonstrates an inability to work together. The guardian ad litem is looking for parents who can come together for the best interests of their children, regardless of their personal issues.
13. Do grant the guardian ad litem access to any school, medical, or other records they request.
Sign any releases necessary for the guardian ad litem to obtain the records they need. Make sure your child’s therapist, doctors, and school know that a guardian ad litem was appointed, and allow them to speak and provide any documentation requested.
14. Do not alienate your children’s affection for the other parent.
Divorcing parents should avoid alienating their child’s affection toward the other parent. The guardian ad litem will be able to see whether any parent is alienating their child’s affection toward the other parent. Guardian ad litems are skilled and experienced at seeing through manipulative parents. The guardian ad litem will not give a favorable recommendation to the judge if they believe you are attempting to manipulate the children.
Dealing with a guardian ad litem doesn’t have to be frustrating. Act in a way that furthers your goal of showing that you are a caring, responsible, and involved parent. Showing up on time to appointments, knowing what is going on in your children’s lives, and dealing with your spouse civilly will demonstrate that you are a mature, reliable parent, which will help you get a custody recommendation from the guardian ad litem.