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What is a Guardian Ad Litem in Florida? What Isn’t a Guardian Ad Litem?

| Aug 2, 2021 | Family Law

With all the characters and professionals involved in a divorce or time-sharing (child custody) proceeding, the purpose of these specific roles can become confusing. An important figure in many family law proceedings is the guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem’s (GAL) purpose is to advocate for the child’s best interests in court proceedings. A GAL in a case does not play the role of the parties attorney, mediator, judge, or what most people think of as a “guardian.”

GALs, according to Florida law, are tasked with being the “next friend of the child, investigator, or evaluator.” These individuals are commonly used during especially contentious legal proceedings and situations involving alleged domestic violence or child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect. One of the most important characteristics of a GAL is impartiality.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Actually Do?

Again, broadly speaking, a GAL’s purpose is to advocate for the best interests of the child. An important distinction here is that GALs are not tasked with advocating for the child, per se, but rather for the child’s best interests. Another way to think of a GAL is as a fact-finder. To accomplish this, GALs typically interview the children, parents, and pertinent witnesses (such as family members of the children). GALs may also arrange for medical and mental health professionals to evaluate the children or parents (through an attorney).

Before any court hearings having to do with the child, GALs may submit written or oral recommendations to the court. These recommendations usually involve the best interests of the child. Any written recommendations must be submitted to the court at least 20 days before the hearing.

If the parents come to an agreement regarding the child, the GAL has the opportunity to respond to the agreement within 10 days of being served with the agreement. If any legal proceedings are held for coming to an agreement, the GAL is allowed to be present and, sometimes, require witnesses to also be present.

In some situations, judges are lawfully required to appoint a guardian ad litem. GALs may be volunteers or paid. In many instances, spouses are required to share the expenses associated with a GAL. In any case, parents must be proactive and respectful when communicating with the GAL. It’s not uncommon for parents to assume that GALs are automatically working against them, but that’s simply not the case. GALs are simply there to provide pertinent information to the court and advocate for the best interests of the child. Judges are not bound by GAL recommendations.

Rotella & Hernandez is well-versed in handling family law matters that involve guardians ad litem and our attorneys have served as GAL in many cases. GALs occupy an important role in time-sharing cases, and knowing how to interact with them can tremendously help your case. Of course, your situation is unique and requires the help of experienced family law counsel, which our team would be honored to provide. Contact us today to get caring legal representation.

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