What is a Guardian Ad Litem and Does my Child Need One?
Child custody disputes can become contentious, and parents have a tendency to focus on their own needs and desires. They may have convinced themselves they are looking out for their child’s welfare, yet not have really explored what is best for their child by talking to him or her, teachers, and counselors. Virginia’s family law judges are experienced and know the signs of when another set of eyes is needed during a child custody matter. If a judge believes he or she needs more information to make a decision that puts the child’s interests first, he or she may appoint a guardian ad litem.
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem is an attorney, appointed by the court, who has specific training to investigate a family’s situation and recommend a child custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interests. He or she remains independent of the parents and the court and is there specifically to address the child’s needs.
A guardian ad litem is not free. In a few circumstances, it may be paid for by the court. This is usually for matters before a juvenile court. During divorces or child custody situations, one or both of the parents may be required to pay for the guardian’s services.
A Guardian Ad Litem’s Investigation
The guardian ad litem usually gets to know the parents, child, and potentially other family members through interviews. He or she may conduct one or more home visits to observe the family dynamic and the effects of the parents’ actions and relationship on the child. During home visits, a guardian ad litem will look for signs of alcohol or drug dependency. He or she will determine whether the living conditions are suitable and safe for the child and whether the residence is home to the individuals listed by the parent or others. He or she will also speak to individuals outside of the family for a broader perspective, including teachers, counselors, doctors, family friends, and daycare workers. Additionally, the guardian may have the right to review school, medical, police, and Child Protective Services records.
What Happens Next
Once a guardian ad litem feels he or she has completed a full investigation of the situation, he or she will write a report for the court. This report will include background information, the results of the guardian’s investigation, and his or her recommendation for the child custody matter. The report is not technically evidence and the judge does not have to order what the guardian recommends. However, judges carefully review and weigh a guardian’s advice heavily.
Does my Child Need a Guardian Ad Litem?
Parents are often unhappy when a guardian ad litem is appointed. It can feel like another adult is coming into the situation to make judgments. However, a guardian ad litem can aid in helping the Court determine what is in a Child’s best interest. It can also be a good compromise for parents who each believe they are right. An independent adult can review the situation and provide an objective opinion instead of the parents arguing with one another. When a guardian ad litem is unexpectedly appointed, it is best for both parents to work with him or her and not try to impede the investigation in any way.
Contact Our Leesburg Child Custody Lawyers Today
If you are in a child custody battle in Leesburg and need help to either obtain custody or get more visitation, contact us at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC right away. We can guide you through this process, and if you believe it will help, ask the court to approve a guardian ad litem for your child.