If a guardian ad litem (GAL) has been appointed for your case, they will investigate the circumstances surrounding your child, or children, and recommend what appears to them to be the best outcome for the child in terms of custody, visitation, and parental decision-making. The GAL is crucially influential in the case.
You need to be an angel with the GAL.
Because this person has so much power to influence the way the case will go, you want to do everything that the GAL asks you to do. You don’t question it; you just do it and say yes, ma’am, yes sir. If you can’t act friendly with the one person holding the custody of your child in the balance, you are not going to get that custody. If you are rude or mean, you aren’t going to win. If you seem defensive, like you are hiding something, the GAL will sniff it out. Consequently, I share techniques with my clients on how to talk with a GAL and how to interact with the GAL.
The GAL strives to be objective, but they are human beings, with all the foibles and weaknesses that we all have. So you do not want to be rude to the GAL, or appear uncooperative and difficult to deal with.
Do not badmouth the other parent to the GAL.
The GAL may be listening attentively to you, and may be understanding your side of the story. But they are not your therapist. This is not the place to unload all your frustration about your soon-to-be ex in hopes of finding a sympathetic ear. If you start badmouthing the other parent, the GAL will get a bad impression of you. That will end up hurting you more than it does the other parent.
I’m a GAL in many cases, and I’m not too fond of it when the parents bicker, or try to undermine the other parent. Even though I try to be incredibly objective, it really rubs me the wrong way. I’m sure that other GALs struggle with this as well.
Of course, there might be concerns – for example, about alcohol use. There are ways to bring these things up, and I coach my clients on this.
Example: Let’s say the other parent, when you were married or when you were living together, drank eight beers every night, got drunk, and passed out on the couch. Every morning, you would have to wake him up and get him out of the living room before the kids came in, because you were just too embarrassed for them to see him. That’s a concern, and that speaks to whether or not his alcoholism is going to impair his ability to rear the children or not. I would encourage this client to bring this up with the GAL in a concerned way. For example, “I’m worried about whether John will be able to get the kids ready for school in the morning… when we were together he would be passed out all through the morning from drinking the night before. What do you think Ms. GAL?”
Willingness to foster a relationship with the other parent is key.
If a parent seems to know what will benefit the child and is trying to act in their best interest, that means a lot. As a GAL, I’m going to be inclined to give that parent the benefit of the doubt. In those instances, I hang my hat on a specific factor of the 15 listed in the custody law. That factor is the willingness of one parent to facilitate and a foster a close relationship with the other parent. Imagine when the GAL can say “True, all those other factors were an issue against this parent, but he was the only one of the parents who appeared to have any concern with making sure everybody is involved in that kid’s life.” That’s going to look pretty good to a judge, and it will make a positive impression for that parent in the judge’s mind.
Courts tend to follow the GAL’s recommendation.
Does the court have to follow the guardian ad litem’s recommendation? The answer is no. However, 99% of the time, that’s what’s going to happen.
If you don’t like the guardian ad litem’s recommendations, you can fight them by calling the GAL as a witness and attacking the investigative process by citing flaws, missed documents, and clues, along with attacking the GAL’s credibility. You can call that GAL as a witness at the trial and draw attention to the investigative mechanisms. Did they look at this page of the medical report? Why not? Did you talk to this person? Why not? What about this other person? What did you think about what they said? If you can show that the GAL’s investigation was flawed or its foundation was weak, then the recommendations are presumably also weak. Then try to show some bias or some partiality on the part of the GAL to attack the suggestions. That’s really all you can do at that point. Even then, it’s going to be a tough fight.
It’s best to get a GAL who is likely to view your case favorably.
Because the court will most likely adopt the GAL’s recommendations, its selection of the GAL is the single most critical part of your custody battle. Rather than wait until you get recommendations that you want to fight, it is better to try to get a GAL who is going to look favorably on your situation.
Over time, a law firm learns which GALs will be best for which particular cases. If there are alcohol problems, we know who will be a fan of the AA process, as opposed to the GAL who will not have any remorse or forgiveness for an alcoholic and is concerned about abuse.
Suppose there is domestic violence. We know GALs who have seen the rehabilitation of an abuser who was able have a good relationship with their kids thereafter, and that has stayed with them. On the other hand, there are GALs who’ve seen the abuser go on to harm the kids after the divorce, and that is the experience that haunts them. That’s the GAL who will be against the alleged abuser.
To sum up, the guardian ad litem’s recommendations have tremendous influence with a court. GALs are supposed to be fair and impartial, but they’re only human – so go out of your way to be pleasant and accommodating to your GAL, and do not bicker with the other parent or badmouth them to the GAL. An attorney can help you dispute a GAL’s findings if it comes to that, but that’s an uphill battle. Instead, work with an attorney who can help you to get a GAL assigned who will be favorable to your case.