The Guardian ad Litem's Role in Custody Matters
What is a GAL?A guardian ad litem is usually an attorney by trade, but could also be a social worker, counselor or nurse. A GAL's duty is to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding a custody case and draft a written recommendation to the Court. The recommendation is called, "The GAL Report."
Thus, a GAL is comparable to an investigator. It's important to make this comparison when you break down the elements of a typical custody case. You see, in many custody cases, Parent A will claim that Parent B is a bad parent; and Parent B will claim that Parent A is a bad parent. There's a lot of finger-pointing and mud-throwing, and at the end of the day, the judge doesn't feel any closer to a decision than when the case started. A GAL is meant to clear this up by acting as a neutral, 3rd party, who acts in the best interest of the child. So, think of a GAL as the person who will, "tell it like it is," which includes the good, the bad, & the ugly.
Who is the GAL?Though most GAL's are attorneys, they come from many walks of life. Many county courts require their GAL's to be attorneys, so it depends on the individual county; however, no matter what their given occupation, every GAL must complete the Ohio Supreme Court Guardian ad Litem training course. Additionally, GAL's must complete 3 hours of continuing education every year.
Additionally, GAL's must pass a BCI&I criminal background check and sometimes have to pass interviews with the sitting judges in the county (No one would doubt a nurse, counselor or social worker would pass a criminal background test...but those pesky attorneys raise an eyebrow, don't they.)
All joking aside, GAL's have an interest in kids and are a special breed of people. They are well-trained individuals who wish to protect the best interests of children and ensure that every child they represent is put into the best position possible to be loved, nurtured and happy. That's never too much to ask, is it?
To Investigate, or not to investigate; that is the question.Just like detectives, there are good ones, and not-so-good ones (does Barney Fife ring a bell?). Some GAL's simply scratch the surface when conducting an investigation, while others drill for oil. GAL's are given the ability (by court order) to search all sorts of records related to the child, including school records and medical histories. GAL's are also given the ability to interview anyone of interest in a case; which means a GAL can interview the parents, relatives, teachers, doctors and even neighbors. And, if that wasn't enough, GAL's can search records related to the parents as well (A GAL won't be too interested in your dental records, but 3 drunk driving convictions over the past 3 years may throw up a red flag).
GAL's are supposed to do certain things as part of their investigations. Those particulars are set forth in Rule 48 of the Ohio Rules of Superintendence. Some GAL's just cover the basics, while others go the extra mile; so, let's talk about the basics...
The Basics: Rule 48Rule 48 of the Ohio Rules of Superintendence sets forth the nine (9) duties a GAL must complete during an investigation. They are:
1. Meet with the child, interview the child and observe the child with each parent;
2. Visit the child as his/her residence;
3. Ask the child his/her wishes (age appropriate);
4. Interview the parents and other significant individuals who may have knowledge of the case;
5. Review the pleadings and other court documents;
6. Review criminal, civil and educational records related to the child and the child's family;
7. Interview school, medical, mental health and protective services personnel;
8. Recommend the court to order evaluations &/or tests related to drugs and psychological concerns;
9. Perform any other investigation necessary to make an informed recommendation regarding the best interest of the child.
The GAL ReportAt the end of an investigation, the GAL will draft, "The GAL Report." Unlike your high school English class, there is no page minimum or page limit. A GAL Report is supposed to provide the court with relevant facts and findings. The GAL Report is also supposed to provide a recommendation as to legal custody, residence and companionship for the child.
Some GAL reports read like a good book, while others are straight-forward and factual. It's important to remember that a GAL isn't being graded on his/her grammar or eloquence; instead, it's the GAL's recommendation coupled with the findings he/she made during the investigation. If the findings support the recommendation, I suppose you could consider that an A+. If the recommendation flies in the face of the findings, then your attorney should have some serious questions to ask the GAL at the final hearing.
So, what's the real deal?If you want me to give it to you straight, just remember these 3 words: cooperate, cooperate, cooperate. GAL's aren't out to make anyone look bad. They simply want the truth. Admitting to certain faults may actually help you more than it hurts you. And, also something to keep in mind: Don't lie to the GAL.
Lying to a GAL is like telling your 2nd Grade teacher, Sister Mary Margaret, that your dog ate your homework. You will get rapped across the hand with a ruler and you will sit in the corner during recess; or in the case of a GAL, be relegated as a dishonest person who will lose face in the eyes of the GAL and possibly much more when it comes to the custody of your child.
As a divorce attorney (and GAL in 5 counties), I tell my clients to be open and honest with the GAL. Custody cases aren't contests to be won or lost; a child is not a trophy to be set upon the mantle; and a GAL is not a referee. A GAL is looking out for your child...shouldn't you be too?