You’re in the middle of a contentious divorce and the Court has appointed a Guardian ad litem. As a parent, the thought of a stranger deciding where your child lives and when they spend time with each parent is anxiety-inducing.
What and who is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad litem, also known as a GAL, is usually an attorney or mental health professional appointed to represent your child(ren)’s best interest. If you and your child’s other parent are both represented by Attorneys, their job is to advocate for your best interests. The child’s best interest can sometimes get lost in the mix and this is why the GAL plays such a valuable role.
What does a GAL do?
At the time they are appointed, the Court will set out the list of duties the Guardian ad Litem, can and must perform. These duties depend on your specific situation. The typical duties of a GAL are investigative in nature. Therefore, a GAL will often have you sign authorizations for Doctors, schools, day care providers, camps and other agencies or people who have provided care to your child(ren). The GAL will also meet with their “ward” or child(ren) they are appointed to. These meetings will vary based on your child’s age and maturity level.
Are Communications Privileged?
Everything that is said to the GAL can be shared with the parents, their attorneys, and most importantly the Court. If a child is seeing a mental health provider, that communication is privileged under doctor/patient confidentiality. In a situation where the child’s treatment directly relates to the matter at hand, the GAL can make a determinationif it is prudent to waive the child’s privileged communications with their therapist.
Do’s and Don’ts:
- Provide all authorizations requested in a timely manner;
- Fill out any questionnaires the GAL may ask you to provide;
- If there are no questionnaires, provide a brief summary of what life is currently like for your child;
- Encourage your child to speak with the GAL in an open manner.
- Try to script what your children say to the GAL;
- Speak badly about the other parent -- stick to the facts;
- Ask the GAL to get involved with matters outside the scope of their appointment
- Get defensive when a GAL ask questions. They are trying to learn as much about your family dynamic as they can in a short period of time.