What is a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), and why are they essential in family law? We attempt to answer this question in today’s article.
In Florida, the court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to represent the child’s best interest as a neutral third party when a dispute concerning children arises in a divorce. Guardians Ad Litem may have mandatory training or otherwise be qualified to investigate and advocate for the child’s best interests. Sometimes a parent will request a Guardian Ad Litem be assigned.
Florida has enacted a statute that provides the minimum qualifications of a GAL:
Florida Statutes 61.401 Appointment of guardian ad litem.—In an action for dissolution of marriage or the creation, approval, or modification of a parenting plan, if the court finds it is in the best interest of the child, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to act as next friend of the child, investigator or evaluator, not as attorney or advocate. The court, in its discretion, may also appoint legal counsel for a child to act as attorney or advocate; however, the Guardian and the legal counsel shall not be the same person. In such actions which involve an allegation of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect as defined in s. 39.01, in which the court verifies the allegation to be well-founded, the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem for the child. The guardian ad litem shall be a party to any judicial proceeding from the appointment date until the date of discharge.
History.—s. 1, ch. 90-226; s. 3, ch. 94-204; s. 123, ch. 98-403; s. 17, ch. 2008-61.
The Guardian does not have to be an attorney. Still, if they aren’t, they must be certified by Florida’s Guardian Ad Litem program or by a legal aid program (unless the case involves allegations of child abuse, in which case the Guardian must either be an attorney or an individual certified by the state program).
Under Florida state law, GALs have considerable power. They can provide evidence by testifying in court or providing a report (or both), which is admissible in court to protect the child’s best interests.
The responsibilities of a GALs include:
- Investigating allegations made in the case concerning the child(ren)
- Interviewing the child(ren)
- Interviewing witnesses
- Requesting that the court order a mental and physical examination of the parties
- Petitioning the court for access to essential documents
- Drafting written and oral recommendations for the court
- Filing any pleadings related to the best interests of the child(ren)
- Participating in all depositions, hearings, and other proceedings
The GAL is required to file a written report that may include recommendations and the child’s wishes following a detailed description of the GAL’s investigation.
GALs are crucially crucial in family law courts for the protection of children. The Guardian Ad Litem for Children foundation recruits and trains volunteers for this critical role.
If you’re contemplating a split with your spouse, contact us.
With over 30 years of combined experience, Jason Brodie Esq. and Joshua Friedman Esq. will guide you toward realistic goals and provide committed advocacy toward achieving them. They are known throughout South Florida for dedicated client service, tenacity, and success in complex divorce litigation involving property division, child custody, and spousal support. To get a better understanding of the qualities our reputation is built on, contact our office in Boca Raton to schedule your initial phone consultation (561) 392-5100