“Child custody” proceedings can easily lose their focus and become about anything and everything other than the child. Even though decisions in these proceedings are supposed to be about the child’s best interests, it is tempting for parents to argue about which one of them is the better parent, which parent the child is more attached to, and/or which parent can offer the child more possessions.
When the court feels that the child’s interests and “voice” are not being adequately represented in a divorce or child custody proceeding, the court can appoint a guardian ad litem for the child (the court can do so either by itself or if requested to do so by a party). While having a guardian ad litem may seem like a positive development for your child, you may want to carefully consider the following before deciding your child needs the services of a guardian ad litem.
A guardian ad litem (sometimes abbreviated as GAL) is an attorney appointed to represent the best interest of the GAL’s assigned child. To do this, the GAL will usually speak with the parents and extended family members of the children (as well as the children themselves) and any professionals like teachers or therapists who are involved in the child’s life. The GAL will then use the information he or she gathers to develop recommendations he or she feels are in the best interest of the child.
The guardian ad litem does not have to conclude that the present custody arrangements are in the child’s best interests. Nor does the guardian ad litem have to advocate for the custody arrangements the child wishes to have in place. The court expects the GAL to provide an impartial and independent recommendation based on the facts present in the case, and many GALs take this responsibility seriously.
Consider the following example of how a GAL’s involvement in your case can hurt your interests: suppose that you have primary residential custody but believe that the child’s other parent is a detrimental influence on the child. You file a motion asking that the noncustodial parent’s visitation time be severely limited and ask the court to appoint a GAL. Upon completing her investigation, the GAL not only disagrees with your recommendation that the other parent’s visitation time be limited, but actually recommends the court designate the other parent as the primary residential parent.
There is a simple alternative that obviates the need for a GAL in a divorce or custody hearing: make your arguments and recommendations about what is best for the child, not what is best for yourself. A parent is likely to have more credibility with a court – and the court is more likely to follow that parent’s recommendations – if the court believes the parent is truly looking out for the best interest of the child.
Your Indiana family law attorneys at the Bellinger Law Office have the knowledge and experience necessary to help you achieve your child custody objectives and can do so in most cases without the involvement of a GAL. Contact us to discuss your case goals by calling us at 260-428-2214 today.