As Charleston divorce attorneys, one common question that we get from our clients regarding the divorce process is:
What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem (commonly referred to as a GAL) is a third party person in your case that investigates facts and circumstances pertaining to the best interests of the minor children. They are most often attorneys, but there is not a requirement that they be. The Guardian can be agreed upon by the parties; if the parties and their attorneys cannot agree upon a GAL the court will appoint one.
Must I have a Guardian ad Litem in my case?
Whether or not a GAL is involved in your case will almost never be up to you. The court can, and often will appoint a Guardian in contested custody cases, or in cases where the fitness of either parent has been raised by claims of abuse, drug or alcohol use or instability in the home.
What does a Guardian ad Litem do?
Once a GAL becomes involved in your case, you can expect that, at a minimum, they will meet with you, your spouse and your children. They will likely visit your home, and they may speak with your child’s teachers or medical providers or any other person that you or your spouse request they speak to that may have information about the case. The primary focus is to investigate all allegations that you and your spouse have made against one another; the more allegations that are made, the more investigation will need to be done. The GAL is tasked with compiling a report that he or she submits to the court at trial in the case, outlining all of the factual findings he or she made during the course of their investigation. Your Charleston divorce attorneys can assist you in navigating through the GAL’s investigation.
What does a Guardian ad Litem cost?
A Guardian will bill you for all of the time they spend working on your case. Their rates can vary, but the rate of a court-appointed Guardian is $175 per hour, typically billed against an initial retainer of approximately $1500.00. The cost of the Guardian is typically divided equally between the parties, but either party can petition the court to require the other party to bear the cost of a GAL.
What power does a Guardian ad Litem have?
It is very important to be clear that a GAL does not decide who gets custody. They do not have that authority, but their opinion does carry significant weight with the Judge. It is in your best interest to be cooperative and honest with them at all times. Ultimately they will assess whether each of you are fit and appropriate to have custody, not who is “better.” While their primary purpose is to represent the best interest of the children, they do not simply report to the court who the children want to live with. The desires of the children are considered as one of many factors in the Guardian’s final report and the weight that is given to their desires will depend on their age, and the reason they may prefer placement with one parent over another. Since children may not always know what is in their best interest, this only accounts for so much of their final report.
Guardians can play an extremely important role in your case and it is important to understand the role the play, but they are not to be feared and can be extremely helpful to you and your children while going through the process.