A Guardian ad Litem is an individual who is appointed by the court to advocate for children who come into the court system primarily as a result of alleged abuse or neglect.
The Guardian ad Litem’s role is to carry out the following activities:
- Investigation: Carries out an objective, systematic examination of the situation, including relevant history, environment, relationships, and needs of the child. The GAL interviews family, friends, neighbors and members of the child’s school.
- Facilitation: Identifies resources and services for the child and facilitates a collaborative relationship between all parties involved in the case, helping to create a situation in which the child’s needs are met.
- Advocacy: Conveys the best interests of the child to the court and relevant agencies.
- Monitoring: Keeps track of whether the orders of the court, as well as the plans of the Department of Children and Families, are carried out.
The Guardian ad Litem is responsible for visiting the child and keeping the child informed about the court proceedings; gathering and assessing independent information on a consistent basis about the child in order to recommend a resolution that is in the child’s best interest; reviewing records; interviewing appropriate parties involved in the case, including the child; determining whether a permanent plan has been created for the child in accordance with federal and state laws and whether appropriate services are being provided to the child and family.
Under Florida law, time sharing is determined based on what is in the “best interests of the child.” In contested cases, both parents often believe that having primary time sharing is in the children’s best interests. Accordingly, the Guardian ad Litem is appointed to speak to the children and parents to get a third party view of what is in the best interests of the children. Judges will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to act as the Court’s eyes and ears. Specifically, the court looks to factors including, but not limited to:
- If a parent is willing and able to foster an open and loving relationship between the child and the other parent;
- If the parent lives in a stable and safe environment for the child;
- The physical and mental health of both parents;
- Any past domestic violence by either parent;
- The preference of the child (with weight given depending on the child’s age and maturity); and
- Each parent’s involvement in the child’s school and extracurricular activities, everyday routine.
The GAL may ultimately be called to testify to the court to deliver an “honest and sincere evaluation of the situation” based on whatever facts the GAL observes during the course of their investigation.
In contentious child custody cases, it often becomes necessary to appoint a Guardian ad Litem to help give the judge a more complete picture of the situation between the parents and minor children. The experienced Pembroke Pines custody attorney at Akilah Harris, PLLC can help you understand the role of the GAL in your custody case. Contact us today for a consultation.