Introduction-Why is A Guardian ad Litem appointed?
A Guardian ad Litem is appointed to represent the best interests of the child. The Guardian works with the parties on issues about parenting, time-sharing, paternity and other family matters. The judge in your family law case must appoint or order a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is sometimes a volunteer who has been certified by the Court or an Florida attorney (i.e., Attorney ad Litem). The judge in your case often will listen to the recommendations of the Guardian in deciding upon family matters, but the court doesn’t have to follow the GAL’s recommendations. The guardian must be a neutral person-no bias or preference for either party.
Why is a GAL needed?
A GAL is needed to represent a minor child who can’t or might have difficulty representing themselves.
What is the GAL looking for?
The GAL should be considered as an investigator for the court. They will interview all relevant parties and the file a report with the court. The whole process can take several months. In addition to interviews, they can review school records and medical records. In addition to filing a report, they may appear an speak directly to the judge about their report and related matters.
What does a guardian ad litem do?
The guardian typically is involved in cases where there are allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment issues. They help the court make decisions regarding the child. The law governing guardian ad litem can is 61.403 (opens in new browser window), the introduction reads as
A guardian ad litem when appointed shall act as next friend of the child, investigator or evaluator, not as attorney or advocate but shall act in the child’s best interest. A guardian ad litem shall have the powers, privileges, and responsibilities to the extent necessary to advance the best interest of the child…Florida Statute 61.403
What is the difference between a guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem?
Not much, except that one person is an attorney and the other is not. Both are expected to be independent and to put the best interests of the child first. On the other hand, if hire your own attorney, they are not neutral and will advocate vigorously for you side of the case.
Getting Started: Filing a Motion for a Guardian ad Litem
A guardian ad litem is appointed after the family law case is filed. You request a guardian ad litem by filing a motion. A motion is made during a case. Either party-the petitioner or respondent may make a motion for a guardian ad litem. A motion is like a request to the court asking for something. In this case, you are requesting the appointment of a guardian. Where you file will depend on whether you started your case in person, by mail, or electronically. You must use the same method that you used when you filed your family law case. You will need to provide information on your motion paperwork, including:
- Whether you or the other parent is requesting the appointment
- The name, address, age of all the minor children involved.
- Whether there have been any allegations of abuse in the case.
- What are the issues in your case such as child support, custody, and so on.
- Why it in the best interests of the child(ren) that a guardian ad litem be appointed.
When you file your motion, the other party must be “served” with a copy of the document. This tells the other party what it is you want from the court. You also must notify the other party of any hearings. You must also provide a certificate of service where you swear that you have served the other party.
Why you came to court?
In your motion you must explain if your family law cases involves establishment of an order or modification of a previous order. Establishment means you want a new court order. For example, you want a court order for child support. Of course, modification means there has been a previous order from the court and you or the other parent wants to modify the order. For more on establishing child support see my post on how to calculate child support in Florida.
Guardian ad Litem in Florida and the Best Interest of the Child
You need to tell the court why appointing a guardian ad litem is in the best interest of the child(ren). There is a list of the factors a court uses to determine the best interests of the child. These factors include:
- The effect of the appointment on the parent-child relationship.
- The ability and willingness of the parents to work with a guardian.
- How appointing a guardian will effect the child’s routine.
If you can convince the court that it is in the best interests of the child, then he or she will grant your motion.
What if I don’t agree with the Guardian’s Report?
Its Okay if you don’t agree with the report. If you have an attorney you can go over the report together a prepare a response, otherwise you can submit your own report.
Look over the report as a neutral party. Ask whether the Guardian got some facts wrong or left out some vital information. Make a list of information that you feel is left out.
Review the GAL’s Case File
Make a informal or formal request to review the guardian’s case file. Some information may be privileged, but most of it you will be able to see. Read it carefully taking note of any inaccuracies. You might have to pay a small fee to the guardian to cover copying costs. Other items to look for include:
- Statements from the other parent
- Derogatory statement about the other parent that were left out of the report.
- School reports
- People that failed to contact the GAL that could help your case.
After you look at the report, contact the guardian about any questions you still have about what was included or missing.
If you need more help with Guardian ad Litem please contact attorney Joel Lipinski at 727-643-8964 for a free 30 minute consultation or fill out the form below.