It is common for a divorce to involve conflict. While the two spouses may be able to negotiate and compromise in some areas, they most likely will not agree on everything. A couple’s disagreements about their children can be difficult to resolve on their own; thus, it is often beneficial to address these matters with the assistance of outside experts.
A judge will typically appoint a Guardian Ad Litem, a child custody evaluator, or a case manager in situations where a couple cannot come to an agreement on their own and there are significant questions about the children’s best interests.
Here, we will provide outline what each role does. Then, we will discuss when they are necessary.
Guardian Ad Litem
A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a lawyer who represents a child’s best interests in a child custody case. These lawyers have additional training to serve in this capacity. This is an important distinction because this means that they will not necessarily advocate everything the child wants, but rather, what is in the child’s best interests. They can be appointed in all Family Law cases- divorces, post-divorce proceedings, and paternity cases.
Courts often order that parents divide the cost of the GAL’s services equally, but, the Court has wide discretion in how it divides costs. Also, it is critical to understand that the GAL will not represent either parent. The GAL is the advocate for the child’s best interest by investigating the relationship between parents and the child.
The GAL may also identify areas of concern, address either parent’s concerns, and interview and observe the child in each parent’s home. The Court will grant GAL authority to contact the child’s doctors, school officials, extended family, and family therapist to get more insight on the case. At the end of this process, the GAL submits a written report about their investigation and recommendations for the child to the Court. The Court may or may not allow the parents to read the actual report. In such cases, both parties are represented by an attorney and the Court will order the attorney to summarize the GAL’s findings.
Child Custody Evaluator
Besides a GAL, a judge may choose to appoint other professionals to evaluate the case. One such professional is a Custody Evaluator. Either parent can request a child custody evaluator to consider the case.
Unlike a GAL, the Custody Evaluator is not often a lawyer. Instead, the Custody Evaluator’s professional background is that of a therapist, psychologist, or a clinical licensed social worker. A Custody Evaluator will interview the children and parents to understand their desires. In addition to conducting interviews with anyone (i.e. doctors, school officials, siblings, parents, etc.) who can shed light on the child’s best interests, the custody evaluator may conduct psychological tests on the children and parents.
Like the GAL, the evaluator will also provide written recommendations to the court about how they believe the child custody issue should be resolved. As with the GAL, the Court has wide discretion in dividing the costs or ordering either party to advance initial costs.
The other type of professional that can be appointed in a domestic case is a case manager. Case managers are typically attorneys. These lawyers have additional training to serve in this capacity.
A case manager’s job is to help litigants set up hearings with a judge to review their files and ensure all their correct forms are included. If they notice missing documents or mistakes, a litigant’s failure to correct the error can result in the case being dismissed. Their duties include helping reduce court intervention by monitoring the case’s progress, researching case histories, attending court, notarizing essential documents and paperwork, and more. Importantly, a Case Manager can make recommendations to the Court in case.
When are Guardians Ad Litem, Child Custody Evaluators, and Case Managers Necessary?
Although a judge will hear both sides of the parents’ story, a GAL and child custody evaluator will focus on what is in your child’s best interest. They are an impartial third-party and are not concerned with the reasons for your divorce. Rather than focusing on winning arguments with your spouse, these two resources can ensure you put your child’s needs come first.
A case manager will help you keep your case on track and help you collect all the information you need to give the judge to avoid a case dismissal.
Even when these professionals are involved, you should hire a strong advocate to represent your interests. At Addair Law, we have attorneys dedicated solely to Domestic Law. Our attorneys understand the importance that all three types of professionals discussed above can have on your case. Beyond helping you collaborate with these professionals, we serve as your advocate. We will be your voice.
Contact our office today to speak to start working with one of our experienced Family law Attorneys.