A Guardian ad Litem investigation typically happens when the parties cannot agree on a custody or placement determination regarding their children. When the parties cannot resolve child-related issues on their own, the court appoints an attorney to investigate the children’s best interests and to make a recommendation to the court as to what kind of custody and placement arrangements would be most beneficial for the child.
The Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) typically has a lot of influence over the judge—after all, she has appointed the GAL to be her eyes and ears. Therefore, your interactions and communications with the GAL may, in large part, drive the GAL’s investigation and their opinion of what is best for your child. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare for a GAL investigation could make or break your case. Read on for tips and insights that will help you put your best foot forward!
Your first meeting with a GAL will usually be one-on-one. You will meet with the GAL at his or her office without your attorney, without the child’s other parent present, and without your child. The GAL will conduct an informational interview to learn about you, your relationship with the other parent, and your relationship with your children.
Be prepared for the GAL to inquire about the following:
Sometimes, GALs provide written questionnaires for parties to complete and return in lieu of a lengthy personal interview. If so, you can consult with your attorney about how to best provide information in response to the questionnaire. However, the GAL will still want to meet with you just to get a sense of your personality and to discuss your child and your case.
At the close of your first meeting, the GAL might also ask you to gather specific documents or information. If so, you should cooperate with your attorney to ensure the GAL gets everything he or she needs. The GAL might also ask you to sign authorizations that will allow them to gather information or records directly from the source. If this is the case, you can consult with your attorney, but generally you will want to cooperate with the GAL’s requests.
Finally, the GAL might schedule a home visit and, if your children are school age or older, it is likely the GAL will want to meet the children as well.
If your case is in a county that requires a custody and placement evaluation by a county social worker, it is likely the GAL will do a joint visit with the social worker. If a custody and placement evaluation has not been ordered in your case, the GAL will likely come visit you alone or possibly with a secretary or paralegal from his or her office who can assist with taking notes or pictures.
In general, here are some tips to consider regarding the GAL’s home visit:
Who should NOT be present: There are other people who should not be present during the home visit if it will create issues for the GAL or will complicate the situation. For example, if the parent has a new boyfriend or girlfriend that does not generally associate with the children, he or she should not be included in the home visit. Likewise, nosey grandparents or next-door neighbors should not participate in the home visit unless the GAL has expressly requested their presence. Finally, overly friendly or aggressive pets should be safely put away during the home visit so that they do not jump up on or injure the GAL or his assistants.
Although in some scenarios, a guardian ad litem might elect to choose to conduct an interview with a child in their own office, they may wish to schedule a home visit instead to see the children in their own environment as it’s less intimidating for the child.
GALs will often ask questions geared toward two purposes: (1) putting the children at ease, and (2) gathering information. If you have more than one child, depending on their ages, the GAL may choose to interview them separately or together. Sometimes the GAL will offer the children a puzzle or art supplies so that the children can “fidget” with something and feel less preoccupied. The GAL will try to make the interview very positive and conversational.
To help put the child at ease, the GAL may ask questions about:
The GAL may also inter-mix “getting to know you” questions with “fact gathering” questions such as:
Finally, GALs will generally ask children the following questions:
GALs typically will NOT explicitly ask children who they want to live with.
Sometimes the GAL will meet the children separately before scheduling a home visit. Other times, the GAL may wish to meet the children contemporaneous with a home visit. Either way, you can help your child prepare for the home visit much as you would help them prepare to meet any guest in your home.
Rest assured, an experienced GAL has “seen it all” and will not hold it against you if your children behave like children at the home visit. After all, that is the point: To observe the children’s behavior in their own home.
It is normal to be nervous but remember: the GAL wants what is best for your children—you are allies in that goal. And now that you know what to expect and how to prepare for the GAL investigation, you can focus less on your fear of the unknown and more on your children’s best interests!
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