What is a GAL? How does it apply to a divorce or custody case?
In a tough fight over custody of children, you may want to have a guardian ad litem appointed by the court. Any time there is a fight over the creation, approval, or modification of a parenting plan, a parent can seek to have a guardian ad litem appointed. The court can also appoint a guardian ad litem on its own. The purpose of a guardian ad litem is to act in the best interest of the child.
Under Florida Statute 61.401 the guardian ad litem acts as “next friend” of the child, investigator, or evaluator. A guardian ad litem does not act as an attorney for the child. The court can appoint legal counsel for the child, but the guardian ad litem and legal counsel cannot be the same person. If the child has been abused, abandoned, or neglected, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem for the child.
Florida Statute 61.403 sets out the powers and authority of a guardian ad litem. When appointed by the court, the guardian ad litem is in an unique and powerful position. A dedicated and energetic guardian ad litem can conduct an investigation to really discover all the circumstances surrounding the child. A guardian ad litem can do this in a quicker and more efficient manner than the attorneys representing the parents.
A guardian ad litem can interview the child, witnesses, or any person that may have information about what is going on in the child’s life. Because the guardian ad litem is acting on behalf of the child, the normal precautions that shield the child from the ongoing litigation do not apply. This allows for interviews in informal settings where the child may be more relaxed and willing to disclose what is really happening in their lives.
Florida Statute 61.403(2) allows the guardian ad litem to get a court order authorizing the guardian ad litem to inspect and copy any records relating to the child. This would include records from medical doctors, psychologists, hospitals, and dentists.
The guardian ad litem, pursuant to Florida Statute 61.403(3), can seek to have the court order the child, the child’s parents, or other persons submit to an examination by mental health professionals or medical doctors.
Once the guardian ad litem has gathered all the information from the child, witnesses, experts, and documents, the guardian ad litem must make a written report to the court. The guardian ad litem can also testify in court. This is where the guardian ad litem can make a real impact. The guardian ad litem can avoid many of the procedural and evidentiary road blocks that would make it difficult to get this information before the court.
The guardian ad litem also may make recommendations to the court. As an impartial person looking out for the child’s best interest, the guardian ad litem’s recommendations can be very persuasive to a judge. If the parents of the child make an agreement or stipulation regarding the child, the guardian ad litem must make their own recommendations regarding the stipulation.
The guardian ad litem in their written report can also include a statement regarding the wishes of the child. While a child is not allowed to dictate where they will live or how often they will see each parent, the wishes of the child can be persuasive to a court. This is especially true when connected to what is in the child’s best interest. For example, a court would give great weight to a child who says they want to spend school nights with a particular parent because they want to be an engineer, they are taking physics and calculus, and one parent is an engineer and helps them with their homework.
The cost for a guardian ad litem varies but a retainer of $2,000 with an hourly rate of $200.00 would be normal legal fees in Brevard County. The court would decide how much each party pays.
Barbara Helm Peters, a partner with, Mario, Gunde, Peters, Rhoden & Kelley, LLC is an experienced and skillful guardian ad litem. As a mother of three, she understands the needs of children and how to relate to their concerns. As an attorney with decades of experience in family law and criminal defense, she knows how to conduct a thorough investigation.
If you have a case that involves a tough custody fight, contact Mario, Gunde, Peters, Rhoden & Kelley, LLC. Our attorneys are experienced in working with guardian ad litems, and with Barbara Helm Peters being a guardian ad litem we have an invaluable resource in house to consult regarding guardian ad litems.
Call 321-631-0506 or email using the contact form at the top of this page to find aggressive, experienced attorneys to help you with your child custody case. We have two offices to serve all of Brevard County. We offer complimentary consultations and payment plans are available.