In many family law cases it may become necessary for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem to conduct an investigation and make a recommendation relating to custody and placement. A guardian ad litem is a licensed attorney who has completed at least the minimum training to serve as an advocate for the best interests of children. A guardian ad litem may also be appointed in cases where are allegations of domestic abuse in the relationship.
In cases where the parties have an agreement on custody and placement arrangements, it may not be necessary for a guardian at litem to be involved. However, if the parties disagree on custody and or placement and the parties have attempted mediation but have not resolved any issues, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem. When the guardian ad litem is appointed, the court will assign one or both parties to contribute to the initial deposit. In most cases both parties will contribute at least in part to the total fees for the guardian ad litem.
While there is no strict order that guardian ad litems follow when conducting their investigation, in nearly every instance they will conduct interviews with both parties and often have each party complete a questionnaire that provides background information about the parties. Because the court relies upon the guardian ad litem to convey the wishes of the children, the guardian ad litem will usually interview and meet with the children. Depending on the age of the children, the interview may be more or less productive. Often the interviews will occur in a neutral place such as a school or the guardian ad litem’s office. In some instances, they may conduct a home visit to assess the appropriateness of the home.
Once the guardian ad litem completes their investigation they will make a recommendation regarding custody and placement after taking into consideration the statutory factors and the facts in each particular case. It is important to note that guardian ad litems only make recommendations. Neither party is obligated to accept or follow the recommendation. In that case, the court will hear from all sides, including the guardian ad litem and make an order for custody and placement along with any other dispute matters.