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Guardian ad Litem in a Custody Case?

A Guardian ad Litem (or “GAL” for short) is an attorney appointed by the Court to advocate for the best interest of the minor child(ren) in a custody case.  The role of the GAL is not to advocate for what the child wants, but rather for what the GAL believes is best for the child.  The GAL will typically interview the parties, the child(ren), and any other relevant third parties.  Other third parties may include teachers, therapists, doctors, etc.

The GAL will also review evidence such as text messages or emails between the parties, expert reports from psychologists, doctors or other professionals, children’s report cards, photos, criminal records and so forth.  The parties and/or their attorneys will have the opportunity to share evidence that they believe is important to the resolution of the case, with the GAL.

The GAL will typically prepare a report for the Court, outlining his or her recommendation of a custody schedule that is in the best interest of the child, and addressing any issues raised or evidence that was used in reaching this recommendation.  The Judge will generally respect the GAL’s opinion and recommendation, but the Judge is not bound or required to reach the same conclusion as the GAL recommended.

The GAL may testify in a trial or hearing.  If the GAL testifies, both parties (or their attorneys if they are represented) will have the opportunity to question the GAL.  Often, the judge will also want to ask the GAL some questions to ensure that all of the relevant factors have been considered by the GAL and by the Court.

Either party (or both parties) may request that the Court appoint a GAL, or the Court may choose to appoint a GAL without a request by the parties, if the Court deems it necessary.

There are typically costs associated with having a GAL involved in your custody case.  In some instances, the parties may split this cost, while in others, one party may bear the cost alone.  This often hinges on which party requested the GAL and the parties’ respective abilities to pay for the GAL.  If the Court chooses to appoint a GAL of its own volition, or if the parties are truly unable to afford the cost, the county will sometimes cover the cost of the GAL for the parties.

If you are interested in learning more about GALs, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.