Family law and juvenile cases involving children are among the most challenging and complicated cases. When parents cannot agree on what’s best for their children, the court will often bring in a guardian ad litem (GAL) to help.

If you are facing difficult decisions concerning your children and cannot reach an agreement with your co-parent, reach out to Sarieh Law Offices. We will help you through each step of the custody or visitation process.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

Guardians ad litem are court-appointed and neutral representatives who represent children in court cases. A GAL must determine what’s in the best interests of the children involved in custody and visitation cases. To do this, they often speak with the children, parents, and other involved parties to get a clear picture of the issues. GALs also generally have the right to do the following:

  • Interview teachers, extended family, therapists, and school counselors
  • Have reasonable access to the child
  • Seek affirmative relief for the child
  • Receive copies of pleadings and notices filed by the parents’ attorneys
  • File pleadings and participate in hearings, conferences, and other proceedings
  • Access the child’s medical records and school files

In family law cases, like child custody and visitation, guardians ad litem must gather all the necessary information they need to advise the court on the best option for the children. In some situations, the guardian ad litem may feel that one parent is better suited to care for the child, and they can make that recommendation to the judge during the custody proceedings.

A judge may appoint a guardian ad litem after considering the following factors:

  • How much stress is being placed on the child by the parents’ conflict
  • If appointing a GAL will reveal information that may otherwise not be available
  • If abuse or neglect is suspected
  • When one or both parents may not be able to provide a safe and secure environment for the child
  • If the best interest of the child cannot be determined without a GAL

The court can request the appointment of a GAL, but either party in a custody or visitation matter can also request a GAL be involved.

Who Can Be a Guardian Ad Litem?

California law requires that a GAL be a neutral third party. This means that parties in the case, like mothers, fathers, or grandparents, cannot act as guardian ad litem. Guardians ad litem must be 18 years of age or older and submit an application for the court to review. The court can also appoint an attorney or social worker to fill this position if no one comes forward to apply.

Anyone wanting to become a guardian ad litem in California must consider the following requirements:

  • Any actual or potential conflicts of interest must be disclosed
  • Relationships with parties in the case must be disclosed

For example, if an uncle or coworker is applying to be appointed as GAL, that relationship must be shared with the court and all parties at the time of application. It is at the court’s discretion if a guardian ad litem application will be approved.

What to do When a GAL is Appointed in Your Case

Do not be alarmed if the court appoints a guardian ad litem in your divorce, custody, or visitation case. It is common for GALs to be involved when parents cannot agree on important matters. Keep in mind that the GAL is not against you, so you shouldn’t consider them as adversarial. A guardian ad litem represents your child’s best interests, which is a positive thing.

A GAL will use their investigation to determine the following factors to help them identify your child’s best interest:

  • Your child’s age
  • Your child’s emotional maturity
  • Your child’s preferences, if old and mature enough
  • Both parents’ preferences
  • Your child’s needs

This list is not exhaustive, as the guardian ad litem will use any factor that relates to your child’s well-being to determine what’s best for them.

When it’s time for your meeting or interview with the GAL, be honest with them about the issues of the case. You don’t need to share every detail or argument you’ve had with your child’s other parent. However, honesty and openness are important for the guardian ad litem to make an informed decision on what is best for your child. If you have questions about how to prepare for your meeting or what you should say, consult with your attorney. They are the best resource for individualized advice and guidance.

Family Law Attorney for Custody and Visitation Issues

Are you interested in applying to be a guardian ad litem, or has a GAL been appointed in your family law case? Sarieh Law Offices offers free case evaluations, so contact us today to schedule your appointment.