The Role of the Guardian Ad Litem in a Florida Custody Case
In amicable cases, parents can reach an agreement about time sharing without additional intervention or help. However, in many custody cases, there are certain issues where the parents cannot see eye to eye with each other. In those cases, a judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to help them determine what is in the best interests of the child. If you are in a contested time sharing case, it is important to understand the role of the Guardian ad Litem if one is appointed.
Why Do Judges Appoint Guardian ad Litems?
Under Florida law, time sharing is determined based on what is in the “best interests of the child.” In contested cases, both parents often believe primary time sharing to them is in the children’s best interests. Accordingly, the Guardian ad Litem is appointed to speak to the children and parents to get a third party view of what is in the best interests of the children. Specifically, the court looks to factors including, but not limited to:
- If a parent is willing and able to foster an open and loving relationship between the child and the other parent;
- If the parent lives in a stable and safe environment for the child;
- The physical and mental health of both parents;
- Any past domestic violence by either parent;
- The preference of the child (with weight given depending on the child’s age and maturity); and
- Each parent’s involvement in the child’s school and extracurricular activities, everyday routine.
The GAL may ultimately be called to testify to the court to deliver an “honest and sincere evaluation of the situation” based on whatever facts the GAL observes during the course of their investigation.
What Should You Expect When a GAL is Appointed?
The purpose of a GAL is to first and foremost act as an advocate for the parties’ child and to investigate allegations in pertinent pleadings that affect the child. Accordingly, the GAL will first want to set up one-on-one meetings with each parent to discuss their interaction and involvement in the lives of their child thus far. In preparation for these meetings, a GAL may ask parents to produce relevant records for the child, including any progress reports from their teachers, coaches, or other tutors. The GAL may also meet with the children and talk about their relationships with their parents. The GAL is then required by Florida law to write a written report including recommendations to the court on disputed time sharing issues. The report is meant to describe the GAL’s observations of the family dynamics and if appropriate, will contain an indication of the child’s wishes. The GAL is required to provide all copies of their report to all parties 72 hours prior to a hearing.
Contact the Experienced Child Custody Attorneys at Cotter & Zelman, PA today
In contentious child custody cases, it often becomes necessary to appoint a Guardian ad Litem to help give the judge a more complete picture of the situation between the parents and minor children. The experienced Winter Park custody attorneys at Cotter & Zelman, PA can help you understand the role of the GAL in your custody case. Contact us today for a free consultation.