Family law cases can be some of the hardest-fought court cases that a person will ever be involved in. This is especially true when the main issue is that of custody or parenting time of the parties’ child. In contentious custody cases, both parents usually have their own respective attorneys who advocate for the parents’ particular positions on custody and visitation. In some cases, the child will get his or own representative called a Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
Under Minnesota Statute 518.165, a judge may appoint a guardian ad litem in any divorce or legal separation case where custody is an issue. Subdivision two goes on to say that the judge must appoint a GAL in a case where the court “has reason to believe that the minor child is a victim of domestic child abuse or neglect.” The role of a GAL is to represent the child’s best interest and to advocate for that position.
A GAL has several responsibilities. First, he or she must investigate the facts relevant to the child and to the family. This usually takes the form of interviewing the parents and the children. It could also include talking to caretakers, teachers, or other people who have relevant knowledge. The GAL is not an attorney for either parent, even if the GAL agrees with the parent. Therefore, the GAL is not bound by the rules of confidentiality that bind the parent’s attorney. That said, the GAL is not permitted to discuss the details of the case with the general public. Finally, the GAL must submit written reports to the court on what he or she believes is in the child’s best interest. These reports will contain the facts that a GAL believes supports what is in the child’s best interest. A GAL could also be called to testify in court as to his or her opinion.
Either parent may request that the court appoint a GAL. This could be important if either parent feels the child is getting “lost in the shuffle” of the court case. The parents should also be aware that a GAL does not work for free. Usually the parents are ordered to equally divide the GAL’s costs. While a GAL is a great person to have help your child in a case, if you and your soon-to-be-former spouse are on relatively good terms, it may not be necessary to request a GAL.
We have extensive experience in helping our clients with custody cases. Contact us today to talk about your children and what we can do to help you protect their best interest.