What Is A Guardian Ad Litem In Child Custody Cases?
Every child custody dispute centers on doing what is in the child’s best interests. Unfortunately, children can rarely speak for themselves. A child might be too young or lack maturity to advocate on their behalf. What’s more, a judge can’t assume that the parents will do what’s in the best interests of the child. Instead, the parents are often fighting—that’s why they are in court.
This is where a guardian ad litem might come in. Florida Statutes § 61.401 gives judges the power to appoint a guardian ad litem in divorce and child custody cases. At Bubley & Bubley, P.A., we have worked with guardians and provide more information about their role below.
The Guardian ad Litem’s Role
A guardian ad litem is a representative of the court, usually appointed by a judge. This person is typically a family law attorney who is tasked with investigating and evaluating the family. The guardian ad litem then will report back to the judge.
Because the guardian is neutral, he or she does not represent either parent. The guardian ad litem also doesn’t legally represent the child, either. Instead, the guardian ad litem is described as the child’s “next friend” whose goal is to advance the child’s best interests.
A judge might also appoint an attorney for the child in a divorce or contested custody case. The attorney cannot be the same person as the guardian ad litem. However, guardians often work closely with the attorney to request records or seek other intervention for the child.
What a Guardian ad Litem Does
A guardian ad litem will investigate the family to better understand the current dynamics. For example, they typically will:
- Interview the parents
- Visit each parent’s home
- Possibly interview the child
- Review school records, medical reports, and other relevant information related to the child and parents
- Request that the child or parents undergo a medical examination
The guardian ad litem will probably also draft a report detailing their findings for the judge. Each parent should receive a copy before the hearing.
How Important is the Guardian ad Litem?
Very important. In our experience, judges put great weight on the guardian’s findings and recommendations based on the guardian’s experience and position as a neutral observer.
Of course, guardians do not make child custody decisions—that power belongs solely to the judge. But judges clearly rely heavily on guardian ad litem’s findings.
For this reason, we work closely with our clients to better understand how they should interact with the guardian. If the guardian ad litem is coming to your home, you want to clean it, address hazards (like exposed wires), and make sure it appears safe and comfortable.
You also should prepare for your interview. You want to take it seriously and act courteously. Do not act rude or lie to the guardian ad litem, since they will report this back to the judge.
Speak with Our Tampa Child Custody Lawyer
Custody fights are scary. You need a powerful advocate in your corner. Contact the Tampa child custody lawyers at Bubley & Bubley, P.A. today.