When engaged in any divorce or child custody dispute that involves minor children, a third party may be introduced into the proceedings. This third party is appointed by the judge and is known as a guardian ad litem or simplified to GAL. Guardian ad litems play an important role in many court cases involving children. Guardian ad litems are appointed by the court to “act as next friends of the child, investigator or evaluator, not as attorney or advocate but to act in the child’s best interest.” (61.403) Their role is to focus specifically on the needs of the child and to determine what is in fact their best interests. They do not argue in court but simply perform a thorough investigation and present their report to the judge of their findings.
As mentioned above the court is gravely concerned with the best interest of the child in formulating their decisions in cases. Courts are required by statute to take into account a child’s physical wellbeing and safety, the psychological health of the children involved, the children’s emotional stability, the social development of the children, the development stage of the child and if the children are older, the court will also look at their desires as to the case. This list is not extensive, the court is given broad discretion in consideration and further the power to appoint third parties to explore the evidence in each case pertaining to these factors.
The court appoints a GAL to delve deeper into this standard and gain a better picture of what a child’s best interest is. Florida statute provides many powers and privileges to guardian ad litems in order to reveal what a child’s best interest may be. The actions many guardians take include: Investigating allegations made by parents or third parties. This can include interviewing the children involved, witnesses to the allegation, and the parents. Guardians also may petition the court for access to agency or medical records of the child or the parents of the child. This gives a better understanding of any medical needs that the court may need to take into consideration. This also may reveal if one party is more involved in the medical attention of the child over the other. Guardians have the power to request an examination of the child or parents by medical professionals, this includes medical doctors, dentists, psychologists or psychiatrists. A GAL can access intimate information, including medical records of anyone within the family. These may also include school records, or any other information that may be deemed appropriate in reference to the case at hand. Finally, a guardian is able to address the court and make recommendations based on their findings and discussions with the child. This may include any of the information gleaned from the interviews or agency documentation as well the needs and wants of the parents and child.
When working with a GAL, it is important that you deal with them with respect. Their job is to create a thorough report concerning your children. There can be some sensitive information included within the report, however it is important to remember they are appointed to aid the interest of your children. When working with a trusted GAL, courts will place a great deal of value on their report. If you are involved in a case in the Florida courts, you need to rely on the expertise of a knowledgeable Orlando Child Custody Attorney who can help you to create a positive relationship with the GAL assigned to your case and explain their process with you.