By Emily Null, Cordell & Cordell Divorce Attorney
During certain divorce cases, it is necessary for the court to appoint a Guardian ad Litem, otherwise known as a GAL. This is an individual, usually an attorney, who does their own thorough investigation of the case and recommends to the court what is in the best interests of the child.
A GAL can be appointed when there are allegations of abuse or neglect, the case is extremely contested, or if a child needs a voice in court.
Here are 7 tips for working with a GAL:
1. Pay them
It is very important to make sure GAL fees are paid.
This is not a free service performed by a volunteer, nor does the court pay them. (This is different in abuse/neglect situations where the Division of Family Services/Children’s Division is involved.)
GALs have to spend time speaking to parties in the case (including the child/children if they are old enough) and retrieving documents. They are attorneys who should be paid for their work. Both parties usually pay equally for the GAL fees.
If a GAL isn’t paid, they are able to file motions to strike pleadings and slow down your case. If you can pay your attorney, you can pay your GAL.
2. Be accessible and helpful
When your GAL makes a request to speak with you, make sure you make time for them.
If they email, answer it. If they call you, answer it or call them back. It’s as simple as that. If they can’t ask the questions they need to ask, they can’t do their jobs.
You also want to make a good impression by being available and helpful. If a GAL can’t even reach you or you are rude to them, they will quickly form a negative opinion about you. That negative opinion can then have a big impact on what happens in your case with your child.
3. Don’t badger or pester them
Always be accessible, but on the other side of the coin, you don’t want to be an irritation.
Everyone needs time to do their jobs in a divorce, whether that’s you getting documents to your attorney, your attorney drafting pleadings, or a GAL gathering information in order to form a recommendation about your child. Excessively calling or emailing a GAL is a quick way to annoy them, as well as rack up more fees. Give them some time.
4. Be honest
This almost goes without saying, but it still needs to be said: Be honest with your GAL.
If they ask you questions, tell the truth. There is nothing worse than you giving a false answer and then the truth coming out later. That ruins your credibility and gives the GAL a bad impression of you.
Think carefully about what information you provide, and do not lie.
5. Let them do their jobs
This tip goes hand-in-hand with being accessible and not badgering or pestering.
GALs come into cases at various times. They have no information to start, and they must do a lot of information gathering to form an opinion about what is in the best interest of your child. You don’t want them to make a quick and uninformed decision that could negatively impact you and your child.
Let them work. Be helpful and give them some time.
6. Remember they are the voice for your kids
A Guardian ad Litem is governed by the “best interests of the child.”
Younger children cannot speak for themselves, so a GAL does. Older children often have opinions and preferences, and they can tell their GAL so that they don’t have to speak in court.
GALs are neutral third parties in the case whose job is to make sure the children are not being hurt in the divorce. Unfortunately, parties to divorce actions can get wrapped up in their wishes and wants and forget about the children. Feelings they have towards each other can interfere with what is actually best for the children.
A GAL will make sure your children are heard.
7. Don’t attack the other side
Can’t we all just get along? No, we can’t.
However, that doesn’t mean you should attack the opposing party. You might have had a short relationship or a long one, and know all their dirty secrets, but bashing and attacking doesn’t help.
A GAL doesn’t want to hear every little thing about the opposing party that you don’t like. Don’t tell them about how your soon-to-be ex liked to party in college. Or how they are just an awful mom and such a bad person.
They only need relevant information. It can be presented in a way that doesn’t attack, but shows concern for your child.
Tell the GAL if there are actual concerns about abuse or neglect. Tell the GAL if your child has told you they want to live with you. But don’t do it in attack mode.
Overall, GALs are in a case to help your child. The court wouldn’t appoint them if they didn’t need to be involved. They just need to do their jobs, same as your attorney; they just have to do it with the end goal of making sure your child is represented and doesn’t get caught in the middle.
See a GAL as an opportunity for your child to be heard, not as a burden.