Important Factors to Know about Guardian Ad Litem Appointments in Virginia
Guardian ad litem, or GAL, means “guardian for the suit.” In Virginia, a guardian ad litem is appointed by the judge to help the court in understanding the circumstances of a particular case. Guardian ad litem appointments in Virginia fall under two distinct programs — one for children and one for incapacitated people. The GAL must provide his or her own independent recommendations about the client’s best interests, which may be in conflict with what the client wants. The guardian ad litem has authority to conduct investigations, hold interviews, participate in court proceedings, and prepare reports for the judge.
Guardians ad litem are used for a variety of cases, including:
- Custody and visitation
- Child protection matters
- Status offense
- Children in need of services or supervision
- Any other appropriate matters
Virginia Standards on Performance for Guardian Ad Litem Appointments for Children
There are specific performance standards required for all attorneys who serve as guardians ad litem for a child in Virginia. Some of these duties include:
- Meeting the child face to face for an interview;
- Participate in pre-trial conferences, negotiations, mediations;
- Complete an independent investigation to understand and report on the facts of the specific case;
- Ensure the child is in attendance at all proceedings where it’s required and appropriate;
- Try to advise the child, in terms he or she can understand, about what is going on, what his or her rights are, what the GAL does, how the court procedures will work, and what the possible outcomes are;
- Prepare the child to testify, when required and appropriate, in support of their welfare and best interests;
- Ensure good communication and keep a professional working relationship with all parties without sacrificing their independence in this matter;
- Give the court enough information, including the GAL’s specific recommendations, based on his or her findings during the investigation and interview(s);
- File any necessary petitions, pleadings, motions, briefs, and appeals on behalf of the child, and inform the court that a GAL is representing him or her in an appeal; and
- Make sure the child understands what decision the court reaches and how that affects him or her as well as others in their life.
Tips for Dealing with a Guardian ad Litem
If there is a guardian ad litem appointed for your child, it’s important to remember some helpful tips to help keep the process a positive one. These include:
- Be sure to make a good first impression. Be proactive in your communication and be as accessible as the GAL needs throughout the investigation.
- Ensure a positive home visit. If the GAL is doing a home visit, make sure your house is clean. Highlight areas where the child hangs out — perhaps it can be a playroom or outdoor playground. Bring up anything that is positive, like the neighborhood and special parks or family/friends nearby.
- If you have problems or flaws, own up to them and discuss how you are making progress or what you are doing to combat the issues. No one is perfect, and a GAL realizes that. It’s better to get any potential issues, like mental or physical health issues, out in the open rather than letting the GAL hear rumors.
Retaining Virginia Child Custody Attorney
If you have questions about guardians ad litem and how the process works, speak with a Virginia family law attorney right away. Contact the experienced team at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC at 703-997-4982.