Understanding the Role of Your Guardian Ad LitemAny time a custody dispute arises it can be a scary thing – not just for parents, but also extended family members. Facing the prospect of losing custody of your child or even having the amount of time you can see your child decided by someone else can cause a lot of stress and strain all the way around because it can affect siblings, grandparents, aunt and uncles.

Appointing a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) can make the entire process even more harrowing because many parents and family members do not entirely understand the GALs role. Often, parents go into child custody cases with the impression that the GAL has ultimate control over everything related to his or her child. Below we will explain why a GAL can be your best ally if you allow yourself that opportunity.

Why is a GAL necessary?

GALs are necessary because judges hear hundreds of cases a year, so they have to use trained outside sources to gather relevant information to aid in making decisions in the best interest of your children. The entire reason a GAL exists is to observe, ask questions, listen, and advocate for  the child’s best interest in court.

The most important fact that you need to understand is that a GAL does not have the ability to take away your child or make decisions about custody or visitation. That authority solely belongs to the family court judge hearing your case, although the GAL will definitely make it known what they believe is best.

There are times when a GAL will make strong suggestions when a non-legal issue affects your children or may even help try to smooth things over when parents are having a disagreement. That said, the only decisions a GAL can make are outlined in the order appointing him or her to your children.

What are the requirements for appointing a GAL?

Under Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-132, a GAL may be appointed in a custody proceeding when the court determines the parents are unable to adequately protect their children’s best interest.

The court will look at several factors related to appointing a GAL, such as:

  • The fundamental rights of parents to the care, custody, and control of their children.
  • Nature and adequacy of the evidence the parents are likely to present.
  • The court′s need for additional information.
  • The ability of the parties to pay reasonable fees to the GAL.
  • Factors alleged that indicate the need for a GAL to become involved.

How to work with a GAL

Sometimes parents can perceive the GAL as the enemy, particularly when things don’t go your way and you believe you’re in the right. The important thing to remember is not to panic or go on the defensive. You want a GAL who is on the side of your children and maintaining a cordial relationship can mean the difference between being heard or being viewed as using your children to sabotage the other parent.

Here are some other helpful tips to be mindful of:

  • Don’t withhold relevant information. If you have concerns about an issue the GAL has asked you to address that may not paint you in the best light, discuss it with your attorney but do not avoid providing the requested information. A judge will most certainly learn that you weren’t forthcoming in the GALs report. If there is a question as to credibility between both parents, it will bode much better to show that you might have made a mistake but you recognize it and you are willing to correct it moving forward for the sake of your children.
  • Assume your behavior is always monitored and act accordingly. Whether your soon-to-be ex is having you followed by a private investigator or your children are honest with adults who may become witnesses, you must take into account that anything you do or say will get back to the GAL. Being on your best behavior is going to help you and your children in the end.
  • Don’t take the investigation process personally. Both parties are investigated equally and questions asked are not about saddling you with blame, but may help you both see any problem areas that might need to be fixed. That information is relayed to the court, including corrective measures taken to protect your kids, which can be a good thing.

It can also be beneficial to you to familiarize yourself with the “best interests of the child” factors because these are what GALs and judges use as guidelines to make decisions about your children.

If you are experiencing issues with child custody and visitation in East Tennessee, seek legal advice from the Maryville child custody attorneys at Shepherd & Long, P.C. To schedule your free consultation please call a member of our dedicated legal team at 865-982-8060, or by completing our contact form.