What is a guardian ad litem?

On Behalf of | Jan 1, 2024 | Custody |

The custody process in California can be confusing and overwhelming. Sometimes co-parents can come to an agreement on custody and save themselves time, money and stress, but realistically, this is not always possible.

Family law issues such as custody are almost always complicated and involve many complex issues that must be addressed. The idea behind child custody laws is to serve the best interests of the children involved but you and your co-parent might not always agree on what that means.

You may try alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, to resolve your custody matter and still be unsuccessful. Custody litigation might be your only option.

As part of this process, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem. This is an attorney who serves as a third-party. The guardian ad litem represents the best interest of your children, not you or your co-parent.

Why courts might appoint a guardian ad litem

Guardian ad litem’s are not appointed in all custody cases that cannot be resolved. They are more likely to be appointed in cases involving suspected child abuse, a child whose wishes are an important factor in the case or a child demonstrating at-risk behavior.

A guardian ad litem’s role is meant to be temporary. Their appointment ends when your custody matter is resolved, either through an agreement or an order by a court.

After the court appoints your guardian ad litem, an investigation begins. The guardian ad litem typically interviews you and your co-parent separately, as well as the children involved.

The guardian ad litem will interview your children

Interviews with children are usually conducted outside the presence of either parent. The purpose behind this is to encourage honesty and openness in the children and reduce the chance that any statements by the children are influenced or coerced by a parent.

You should cooperate with your guardian ad litem and maintain a respectful relationship with them. This is not only best for your children and an appropriate way to behave but could impact the guardian ad litem’s ultimate custody recommendation.

In addition to interviews, the guardian ad litem may visit the homes of you and your co-parents or speak with other family members or teachers. They may review records, such as the children’s school records or you and your co-parent’s criminal and employment records.

Once the investigation is complete, the guardian ad litem submits a written recommendation to the custody court. The recommendation is based on the factors a court uses when making custody decisions.

The recommendation is typically detailed, addressing each factor in turn and how it applies to the information gained in the investigation.

Although it is not a requirement, courts usually make custody decisions based on a guardian ad litem’s recommendation.

Never lie to the guardian ad litem

This is why it is important to cooperate with the guardian ad litem. Be honest when answering their questions. Evidence that you lied to them can result in an unfavorable custody decision for you.

The idea of another person deciding what is best for you and your children can be scary and cause you to feel even more stress over the entire process. Having someone on your side to advocate for you can make sure your rights as a parent are protected and your voice is heard.