What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?

The judge appointed a guardian ad litem in my custody case. What does that mean?

A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is someone appointed by the court to represent a minor child in a custody case or other family court matter. A GAL is not necessary in most family court cases; however, most judges like a GAL are to be appointed in order to assist the court in making a determination that would be in the best interest of the child. In order to be qualified to be a GAL, the person must either be an attorney or have taken an approved Guardian ad Litem class. Usually, each party is responsible for the cost of the Guardian ad Litem.

The job of the Guardian ad Litem is to speak with the child, interview witnesses, visit teachers, visit homes, and appear and testify at hearings. The GAL is allowed to come to the child’s school, make surprise home visits, and gather medical and school records.

South Carolina law says the responsibility of the guardian ad litem is to:

  1. Represent the best interest of the child;
  2. Conduct an independent, balanced, and impartial investigation to determine the facts relevant to the situation of the child and the family;
  3. Advocate for the child’s best interest;
  4. Attend all court hearings related to custody and visitation issues, except when attendance is excused by the court or the absence is stipulated by both parties.
  5. Maintain a complete file, including notes; and
  6. Present to the court and all parties clear and comprehensive written reports including, but not limited to, a final written report regarding the child’s best interest. The final written report must not include a recommendation concerning which party should be awarded custody, nor may the guardian ad litem make a recommendation as to the issue of custody unless requested by the court.

It is important to be truthful to a Guardian ad Litem. If the GAL determines that the information they have received from someone is a lie, then all credibility may be lost with the GAL. As a result, the GAL is not likely to believe anything else that they are told by that person.

A fine line must be walked in keeping open communication with the GAL. The GAL is not a babysitter. Therefore, not every problem needs to be brought to the Guardian’s attention. If a major problem arises in your case, you need to contact your attorney so your attorney may then make a decision on how best to approach the GAL.

The GAL may also request parties and witnesses to submit to drug tests. This is not uncommon. If a Guardian ad Litem ever asks you or one of your witnesses to take a drug test, do so immediately, but contact your attorney as soon as the request is made, but before taking the test. Failure to take a drug test or failure to timely take a drug test can be viewed by the court as a positive drug test.

Guardian ad Litem plays an important role in any family court case. Therefore, it is always a good idea to cooperate with the GAL and to be honest and responsive to their requests.

If you have any questions about Guardian ad Litem’s or you are involved in a custody case, give me a call to see if I can assist you.

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