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Guardian ad litem - An Advocate for Children

In custody and visitation matters, a judge may appoint a Guardian ad litem to assist in determining an arrangement in the best interest of the child, but who is a Guardian ad litem and what is their role in a case? 

A Guardian ad litem, or GAL for short, is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Virginia who is appointed by the court to represent your child. This is important to keep in mind. The GAL represents your child, not you! There are specific duties that the GAL has in order to fulfill their role, which include, but are not limited to, the following:  

  • Completing an investigation to determine the facts of the case;

  • Meeting face-to-face with your child to interview them, if age-appropriate;

  • Preparing and appearing at all court hearings to represent your child; and

  • Providing the judge information and recommendations related to your child’s custody and visitation based on all information obtained through their investigation. 

Again, this list is not exhaustive and depending on the age of your child and the facts of the matter, the GAL’s duties may require more duties. 

Now, you may be wondering what an “investigation” really means. Keep in mind, the GAL is tasked to speak with/interview your child, but can interview you, the other party, and any other relevant individuals in the child’s life. GAL’s can also access a lot of important information such as academic records, medical records, etc. for your child. This means they may also access the same type of records for each party. 

If a GAL is appointed in your case, it’s important to remember that it’s your responsibility to communicate with them regarding information you believe is relevant to your case. Many GAL’s in the Hampton Roads area will forward a questionnaire for your completion to ease this process. However, it is not the GAL’s job to hunt you down for this information. The bottom line is that it’s always best to be proactive when a GAL has been appointed in your matter. 

Remember, one of the most important duties that the GAL has is to take all of the information from their investigation and make a recommendation to the judge about what is in your child’s best interest as it relates to custody and visitation. Sometimes the GAL may prefer to present their recommendation in a written report, but sometimes there isn’t a bright-line recommendation, and the GAL will choose to provide their recommendation at trial. It’s important to keep in mind that even though the judge may rely on the GAL’s recommendation, and may even strongly defer to it, judges are not bound to make an order based upon this recommendation. 

Ultimately, keep in mind that the GAL’s job is to represent your child, so if you are represented by an attorney, you should always consult with them prior to speaking with the GAL. If you have questions about your custody and visitation matter related to your child’s GAL, the attorneys at Morris Williams LLCare here to empower you to make the best decisions for your future. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at admin@morriswilliamslaw.com or (757) 226-9425.

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