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Representing The Child’s Best Interest Tn Family Court Cases: Guardians Ad Litem

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Family law cases involving children are often some of the most complicated matters a court examines, and making the best possible decision for the child’s long-term welfare is the optimal goal. While judges would ideally like to spend all the time needed to assess and investigate a child’s needs and current living situation, limited resources and a crowded docket make this preference impractical. To ameliorate this lack of time, courts have the option of appointing a guardian ad litem (GAL) to stand in as a neutral representative of the child’s best interests. These individuals are used in cases involving timesharing as well as in dependency cases. The court or either parent can request the appointment of a GAL in family custody cases, and judges are more likely to use this option to gather information in cases where a judge is unsure whether he/she knows all the pertinent information, or if each side is presenting conflicting information. GALs are required by law in dependency proceedings. The court’s final decision as to the child can be greatly influenced by the input of a GAL, so understanding who they are and how they are involved in family law matters is important if a high amount of conflict is expected. An overview of a GAL’s powers and duties, and the differences between GALs involved in family law timesharing cases and those appointed in dependency actions, will follow below.

The Purpose of GALs

A GAL is considered a “friend of the court,” and represents the interests of the child. Further, a GAL is considered to be a party in a court case, and has rights similar to those possessed by the parents, such as attending and participating in all hearings, filing motions and making arguments to the court. The primary purpose and responsibility of GALs is to present to the court information about the child’s life, particularly the living situation that would best allow the child to thrive. Parents who are concerned about a court having the full picture of their child’s life could benefit from requesting an appointment, especially if there are allegations of violence or abuse, or the parents are unable to communicate. The GAL is authorized to investigate the child’s welfare by interviewing the parents, the child and other important individuals in the child’ life (teachers, grandparents, etc.), as well as through the review of records related to the child, typically from the child’s school and primary doctors. The GAL submits a final report on his/her findings and recommendations to the court once the investigation is concluded, and courts tend to give GAL reports a significant amount of weight and consideration. Thus, parents would do well to cooperate with the GAL’s efforts, even if they disagree with their involvement.

GALs in Timesharing vs. Dependency Matters

As noted above, GALs are used in dependency and cases involving timesharing, divorce and paternity matters being the most common, but the type of person who assumes this role and how he/she functions within the case is somewhat different. In timesharing cases, the GAL tends to be an attorney or psychologist who has experience in family law matters, and may be compensated by the parties. The role of GALs in these cases is a little more fluid as compared to GALs in dependency actions, which are more strictly governed by statute. In further contrast, GALs in dependency matters are highly-trained volunteers that work with a team of child advocacy experts to better assess a child’s needs in unfortunate circumstances. However, both types of GALs work to represent the child’s best interests, and serve as the child’s voice in the case.

Work with a Florida Family Law Attorney

Having the court evaluate your adequacy as a parent is never an easy situation, but working with an experienced family law attorney can give more control over the likely outcome. Joyce A. Julian, P.A. represents clients in family law and dependency matters in the Fort Lauderdale area, and knows how to advocate for your rights as a parent so you receive a fair and appropriate result. Contact the office for a free consultation.

Resource:

leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0000-0099/0061/Sections/0061.401.html

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