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MY CHILD HAS BEEN ASSIGNED A GUARDIAN AD LITEM, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

A Guardian Ad Litem being assigned to your family’s custody matter can sound intimidating initially, but know that it is not necessarily a bad thing. This article will discuss the most commonly asked questions about Guardian Ad Litems in custody cases in Virginia.

Who is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem, also known as a GAL, is an attorney who is assigned to represent a child’s interests in a custody or visitation case. As each parent has an attorney who represents their own interests, in certain cases, a Judge may order, or the parties may agree, to hire a GAL to represent the interests of the children.

Why do Guardian Ad Litems become involved?
A GAL becomes involved in a case wherein unique circumstances are involved, such as:

  • Sexual, physical, mental or emotional abuse is allegedly involved.
  • One or both of the parents has a criminal history, a history of drug abuse, a mental impairment or is incarcerated.
  • The child has a medical condition, physical or mental, that necessitates special care or has other unique consequences.

How do Guardian Ad Litems become involved?
There are three (3) ways a GAL may become involved:

  • A Judge may order a GAL to a case.
  • One of the parties involved may petition the Court for a GAL to be assigned.
  • The parties may mutually agree to GAL becoming involved in the case.

What does a Guardian Ad Litem do?
The GAL has a duty to focus on the children’s interests, not side with either parent. During a case, a GAL may familiarize themselves with the family’s dynamics in the following ways:

  • Interview both parents, the children involved, teachers, therapists, doctors, etc. as appropriate or necessary.
  • Conduct a home visit of each parent’s residence.
  • Review police reports, child protective services reports, school records, medical records, drug tests, etc.

Once the GAL has completed their investigation, they act as a neutral third party and present their opinion to the Judge as to what would be the best custodial arrangement for the child or children involved.

Is it bad that a Guardian Ad Litem is involved in my case?
At the end of the day, the children’s best interests being met is the biggest win in a case. So ultimately, a GAL being involved is a good thing for the children in the case because it gives them a voice.
While sometimes unique circumstances may have warranted a GAL’s involvement, their involvement should not be viewed negatively since their job is to represent the children’s needs.

Since Guardian Ad Litems are attorneys, can I choose any attorney to be my child’s Guardian Ad Litem?
Not every attorney acts as a GAL. The Court has a list of approved GALs that they work with. In the event that a GAL is ordered by a Judge, he or she will select a GAL from that list. In the event that a party to a case is petitioning the Court to appoint a GAL, they may propose a specific GAL be assigned to the case, however, the Judge may choose to assign a different GAL.

Do I need an attorney if a Guardian Ad Litem is involved?
Some parties choose to represent their own interests, which is referred to as being “pro se”, and communicate with their child’s GAL independently. Others choose to obtain legal representation. Attorneys may communicate with the GAL in addition to the parents, and this can be beneficial in most circumstances.
The attorneys at The Hopkins Law Firm have extensive experience working with Guardian Ad Litems and they are ready to effectively represent your interests and fight for your case. Please contact them today at 571-248-2210 or [email protected] to arrange a consultation to discuss your specific legal needs.

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