Family law courts in Georgia (probably in other states also) have the power to appoint a ‘guardian ad litem’ in domestic relations cases involving a minor child. A family law judge may do so if: he or she believe that an objective third person can inform the court of what may be in the child’s best interests. The guardian ad litem assists the court (or the parents) in reaching decisions concerning the custody, visitation and other issues concerning the minor child involved in the action. Guardians ad litem assist the court by investigating the background, living conditions, family conditions, and any other matters relating to the child in order to make a recommendation to the court regarding what custody or visitation arrangements would be in the best interest of the child involved. [Georgia Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.9(3)]. A guardian ad litem can be appointed by the court if there are allegations of abuse or neglect, the case is extremely contested, or if a child needs a voice in court. This article contains a few tips working with a guardian ad litem.
Cooperate with the investigation
When a guardian ad litem is appointed to your case, be sure to cooperate fully with the guardian and any of his or her requests. The guardian ad litem will make a custody recommendation to the court, and while the recommendation is not determinative of the outcome of the case, the court will rely on what the guardian recommends. Accordingly, failure to cooperate with the guardian could result in an unfavorable outcome of the case.
So, keep your appointments with the guardian ad litem and be on time. If you must cancel the appointment, call the guardian as soon as possible and reschedule. Also, make sure you provide information as requested in a timely manner. Be honest. One of the worst things you can do for your custody case is to withhold information or to lie about anything to the guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem will conduct his or her own investigation, talking to various witnesses and reviewing documents related to the case. If the guardian found out that you withheld information or lied about something, your credibility with the guardian and the court will be harshly damaged.
In addition, don’t be overly negative about the other parent or others. If the other parent has problems that may or have caused harm to your child, such as domestic violence against you or abuse of the child, simply state your concerns about the other parent reasonably. Avoid attacking the other parent personally or emotionally. If there are any written evidence including police reports or court protection orders, provide such evidence to the guardian.
Provide documentation to support your position (do not rely on a guardian ad litem to obtain them)
Provide the guardian ad litem with a list of your family, friends, neighbors and anyone who can provide vital information that can show you are a good parent. Make sure you provide references who have information that is relevant to your case. The best references are those individuals who can provide unbiased observations to the guardian such as a babysitter, neighbor, or friend to both parents. It would not be very helpful to list your best friend who lives far away who has not seen you for long time or only sees you once a year. Additionally, family members often do not make good references unless they have particularly useful information. For instance, unless they babysit for the child or live with you, they may not provide information relevant to your child custody case.
Even if you have provided their contact information, however, you may want to obtain records or statement from them yourself and provide them to the guardian. Guardians ad litem generally have discretion in how they handle their investigation and may not contact every reference or source you provide. Therefore, by providing records or statement yourself, you will be able to ensure that the guardian ad litem has the information that can support your position. This way, you could also use those same records later in court to challenge against the guardian’s findings of necessary.
Keep in mind: do not to provide the guardian ad litem with too many records or statement. You should limit documentation to only relevant and important facts that you would like the guardian ad litem to rely on. Otherwise, important facts can get lost in the volume of documentation.
Do not coach your child or children
Guardians ad litem will most likely interview your child or children alone, if they are old enough. Never tell your child what to say to questions the guardian may ask. Most guardians ad litem have experience and training to spot signs that a child has been coached to take certain positions with regard to the custody situation. Just let your child or children know that the guardian will ask them some questions and that it is okay to answer honestly to the questions. If you are caught up coaching your child, there will always be negative consequences to your case.
Do not rely solely on the guardian ad litem’s report and recommendations
Ask the guardian ad litem to provide you with a copy of his or her report. The earlier you get the report, the more time you will have to prepare a response for the hearing and bring other evidence to the court if necessary. Be sure to respond in writing to any mistakes you believe the guardian made. Explain what you disagree with and point out any discrepancies in the report. You must provide any written response to all parties, the guardian ad litem, and the court at least 60 days before trial.
Even if the report includes a favorable recommendation, do not rely solely on a guardian’s report. It may help your position in your custody case, but it is not a substitute to an attorney who will advocate for you in the court. An experienced family law attorney will help you review the guardian’s report and support or challenge the guardian’s recommendations.
Focus on what is good for the child or children
Remember: the guardian ad litem’s job is to find out what is in the children’s best interests, rather than what is in yours or the other parent’s best interest. Let the guardian know that you want what is best for your child.
Additional legal help
If you are facing a divorce or family law case that includes a guardian ad litem, call us at 770-609-1247 to discuss how one of our experinced and effective Georgia divorce and family law attorneys can assist in your case.