One of the central tenets of family law is to seek the best interests of any children in each case. From matters of delinquency to child custody, the court will seek to determine and enforce the most beneficial course of actions for children to have a safe and supportive environment. Of course, the best interests of each child will be unique, and their situations are often complex.
If a judge cannot easily determine the best course for a child’s best interests, they may appoint a guardian ad litem. Georgia divorce courts often use a guardian ad litem to ensure that the needs of the child(ren) involves are cared for when deciding on divorce and child custody terms.
What Is Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem is a type of expert witness appointed to a case by a judge. Their job is to assist in determining which actions will serve the best interests of the children connected to the case. “ad litem” in Latin means “for the purpose of legal action.”
A GAL will conduct an investigation, including speaking to the child and parents, visiting the home, and may even request discovery to determine the best interests of each child. They will then advise the judge on the best course of action to look out for the children involved in the case.
What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Georgia?
A guardian ad litem in Georgia is assigned to any case where the best interests of a child are unclear based on initial evidence. They are typically assigned both to cases where a delinquent child has no apparent or available guardian and in divorce cases where the judge is unable to determine if parents understand or will provide for the best interests of their children.
A guardian ad litem is not a temporary legal guardian. They are an expert witness who investigates the child’s situation and prepares a report for the judge.
How Can a Guardian ad Litem Help My Case?
If you have your child’s best interests at heart and your spouse does not, a guardian ad litem is likely a good thing.
In a divorce, the children are often caught in the middle if your spouse is dangerous, vengeful, or manipulative. It is the job of a guardian ad litem to identify whether each parent, individually, has each child’s best interests at heart and is able to provide a suitable home for them.
If one parent is ready to care for their children and the other is abusive, unstable, or wants to use the children as pawns in the divorce, guardians ad litem are trained to identify this and will often side with the more stable, loving parent. Judges trust the advice of a guardian ad litem because they are a neutral third party outside of the emotional conflict of a divorce.
Consider the case of John and Mary, who are going through a bitter divorce. They have two children, Lily, aged 10, and Ethan, aged 14. Accusations are flying back and forth with each parent alleging the other is unfit to care for the children. The judge, unable to determine the truth amidst the conflict, assigns a guardian ad litem to assess the situation.
The guardian ad litem conducts thorough investigations, including home visits, and interviews with the children, parents, teachers, and other relevant people. They observe John and Mary’s interaction with the children and each other, looking for signs of emotional stability, loving behavior, and capability to provide a nurturing environment.
Through these investigations, the guardian ad litem finds that while both parents love their children, Mary has been trying to alienate them from John and falsely accused him. The guardian ad litem then submits a report to the judge recommending that John be given primary custody, as he provides a more stable and emotionally healthy environment for Lily and Ethan. The judge, trusting in the neutrality and expertise of the guardian ad litem, sides with John, ensuring the children’s best interests are served.
Can I Request a Guardian Ad Litem for My Divorce?
Yes. In Georgia, one or both parents can request that a guardian ad litem be assigned to view child custody disputes objectively. The judge will usually grant this request, but we suggest you talk with your custody lawyer about when this request can be made and how it may impact your case.
If you are certain that you can provide a loving and supportive home and that a guardian ad litem will see any existing dangers or lack of care in your spouse, requesting a guardian ad litem can be beneficial.
How a Guardian Ad Litem Will Affect Contested Child Custody in Georgia
Once a guardian ad litem has been appointed, their report holds a great deal of weight in a child custody case. Judges tend to trust the reports of assigned guardians ad litem due to their trained and objective position in the divorce. Because their goal is only to look after the children’s safety and future, they will provide an objective view of the safety, stability, and parental bond that both parents could provide.
Guardians ad litem can not only interview children and attend divorce hearings, they can also request discovery that may include non-admissable evidence. However, once their investigation is done, both parents can also request discovery to find out the GAL’s process and the full contents of their report.
In some cases a GAL can file motions on behalf of a child’s best interests, such as a protection order if abuse is detected or temporary order to prevent parental kidnapping.
However, a guardian ad litem’s recommendation is rarely black & white. Unless there are clear cases of abuse or unsafe conditions, they will often recommend a specific balance of custody based on safety and opportunity. This is because studies have proven that a strong relationship with both parents is in the best interests of most children. So, even if one parent is unstable, they may still be granted supervised visits. If one parent is manipulative but otherwise loving, they may be granted partial or even joint custody.
Common Question about the Guardian Ad Litem’s Role in GA
What happens when a court appoints a Guardian Ad Litem?
When the court appoints a guardian ad litem, they will begin an investigation to determine the best interests of a child. This will usually include attending divorce hearings, conducting interviews, and requesting discovery. They can also request a witness to appear and testify.
Can Grandparents Seek a Guardian Ad Litem in Georgia?
Yes. A grandparent who has been denied visitation can request a guardian ad litem to be appointed to the case. If the GAL identifies that harm will come to the children without grandparent visitation, visitations can be mandated by the court.
What does a Guardian Ad Litem cannot do?
A guardian ad litem makes recommendations, but they cannot enforce their recommendations. They cannot interfere with the case, or do anything that violates the rules of evidence or attorney ethics. They also cannot be the legal representation of either spouse.
What happens when only one party wants a guardian ad litem?
If either parent in a child custody case requests a guardian ad litem, it is likely the court will grant the request because the investigation and recommendations of a GAL are beneficial to the judge’s decision-making capabilities.
How long does a Guardian Ad Litem serve in a case?
A Guardian Ad Litem serves in a case until the court proceedings related to child custody or any issues affecting the child’s welfare are resolved. However, the court can also decide to extend or shorten the duration based on specific circumstances surrounding the child’s wellbeing.
Can a Guardian Ad Litem be removed from a case?
Yes, a Guardian Ad Litem can be removed from a case if either party can prove they’re not acting in the child’s best interest. The party must file a motion and provide substantial evidence to the court showing bias, misconduct, or negligence on the part of the Guardian Ad Litem.
Related Resources about Georgia Custody Laws</h3>
Our website offers a wide range of resources dedicated to Georgia custody laws. These resources are designed to answer common questions about child custody in Georgia. You’ll find information on child custody determinations, the process, the impact of a child’s opinion on custody decisions, Georgian’s laws regarding relocation with child, and how to qualify for child custody modifications. Understanding these laws will help you navigate the court system more effectively and advocate for your child’s best interests.
Disclaimer: Georgia custody laws are subject to change. Therefore, for the most current and applicable information relating to your situation, it’s advisable to consult with your lawyer. The guidance provided here is general in nature and may not accurately reflect the nuances of your personal circumstances or recent modifications in the law.
Navigating a Georgia Contested Child Custody Case with Petrelli Previtera
If you are involved in a contested child custody case, the attorneys of Petrelli Previtera can help. Your attorney can advise whether to request a guardian ad litem for your situation or how to deal with a case where your spouse/ex has requested a GAL. If you have furthre questions or are seeking representation in your divorce and child custody case, call to schedule an appointment at (678) 730-6310 or contact us online.
About Petrelli Previtera Covington Child Custody Attorneys
Our Covington, Georgia, family lawyers are here to help you. At Petrelli Previtera, we have helped many people overcome the challenges they are facing through even the most challenging of legal matters. We have been recognized as one of the top divorce firms in the country for the work we do. We can be there to support you through this legal process as well.
We serve clients across several Georgia counties including Newton County, Rockdale County, Walton County, Morgan County, Jasper County, Butts County, Henry County, and Fulton County.
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