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What does a guardian ad litem do in a custody case?

In California, a court may elect to appoint a guardian ad litem, or GAL, who in a child custody case. Properly speaking, a GAL is called a "child custody evaluator" in this state. Although some residents of Tiburon and the greater Bay Area may have some idea of what a GAL does, many might not be familiar with the term or the role they play in child custody disputes.

While a court might appoint a GAL for any number of reasons, they tend to do so more often in cases where it seems like a child could use a spokesperson in court, or someone who is going to fairly and objectively represent the child's best interests to the judge. Thus, in addition to high conflict cases, GALs are used when the child has some special needs or when there are allegations of domestic violence in play.

Usually, the GAL is an attorney or a mental health professional and must, in all cases, meet or qualify for an exception to California's requirements. Upon taking an appointment, the GAL will have the authority he or she needs to investigate the facts of the situation. However, it is important to remember that a GAL is not a mediator, a counselor for either the child or the parents, or a final decision-maker.

Once the GAL has completed his or her investigation, he or she will usually prepare a report to the court with his or her findings and recommendations. Both parents will have the opportunity to review the report and share any concerns they might have. A GAL is often also called as a witness in the event a custody case goes before the judge as a contested hearing.

Whether asking the court to appoint a GAL is a good idea depends heavily on the facts of the case, and it is a request that ought to be run by a parent's family law attorney. If a GAL gets appointed, an attorney can also be of valuable assistance with respect to interacting with a GAL and reviewing the GAL's findings.

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