The decision to end a marriage will have a significant impact on everyone involved, including any minor children of the marriage. In fact, the minor children often become the focus of a divorce proceeding if the parent cannot agree on custody of the children. When that happens, the divorce typically becomes adversarial in nature as both parties fight for the right to be the primary residential parent. Sadly, that frequently leaves the children stuck in the middle. If the court is concerned about the welfare of the children, or the court is unsure about what is in the best interest of the children, the court may appoint a “Guardian Ad Litem.” Because the average person in unfamiliar with a Guardian Ad Litem, a Smyrna divorce lawyer has offered to explain what a Guardian Ad Litem does and why a judge would appoint one.
When a couple decides to end a marriage, a divorce proceeding follows that decision. During the divorce proceeding, a number of important decisions must be made. For example, all of the assets and debts of the marriage must be divided between the parties. If there are minor children of the marriage, a Parenting Plan must be submitted to the court for approval. The Parenting Plan is effectively a guidebook for how the parents will handle all things related to the children post-divorce. This includes things such as custody and visitation, child support, medical insurance, and even conflict resolution methods. Ideally, the parties to the divorce are able to agree on the terms of the Parenting Plan; however, when issues relating to the children are contested, the court must step in and make decisions. Unfortunately, when issues related to the children are contested, a divorce is much more likely to turn contentious.
The Court’s Role in a Contested Divorce
Although most people do not think of it this way, a divorce is a civil lawsuit. One party is petitioning to end a marriage with the other party. The court’s role in a divorce is ultimately the same as in any other lawsuit, that is to decide issues that the parties to the litigation cannot agree upon. When the parties to a divorce cannot agree on custody and/or visitation with the minor children, the court must intervene. When making decisions that involve the minor children, a court is required to use the “best interest of the children” standard. To determine what is in the best interest of the children, a court may appoint a “Guardian Ad Litem.” A court does not always appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). On the contrary, a GAL is only appointed when a court finds that a child’s interests cannot be represented without one.
What Is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney who has special training in how to represented the needs of minors and incompetent individuals. A GAL is appointed in cases where there is a minor or an incapacitated adult who is unable to speak for himself/herself but who is directly affected by the outcome of the court proceedings. In the case of a divorce, the role of a GAL is to speak for the minor children. The GAL does not advocate for either of the parents. The only objective of the GAL is to effectively be the voice of the minor child throughout the proceedings. To do that, the GAL will spend a considerable amount of time with the children and with both parties to the divorce. A GAL has a considerable amount of authority granted by the court. A GAL may request school, medical, and counseling records, for example, in an effort to determine how the child is functioning in his/her current environment. The GAL will ultimately put his/her findings and conclusions in a report filed with the court. In cases where it is not clear to the judge who should be granted custody, the judge will typically rely heavily on the findings of the GAL.
If you are planning to end your marriage and you believe the issue of custody will be contested, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Smyrna divorce lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.