A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is either an attorney or other qualified professional, such as a mental health professional, appointed by the judge to assist in a domestic relations case concerning the custody or welfare of a child. The superior court judge may appoint any person to serve as the GAL as long as that person has received training administered or approved by the Office of the Child Advocate. It is the responsibility of a court appointed GAL to assist the court and the parents in reaching decisions concerning the custody, visitation and other issues concerning the minor child or children involved in the action. GALs aid the court by investigating the background,
living conditions, family conditions, and any other matters relating to the child or children in order to make a recommendation to the court regarding what custody or visitation arrangements would be in the best interest of the child or children involved.

When Are Guardians Appointed?

GALs are normally appointed in child custody matters when there is serious disagreement regarding which parent would be the most appropriate custodian or primary caretaker for the child or children involved. GALs are also regularly appointed when one party makes serious allegations about the ability of the other parent to provide proper care for the child or children. For example, if one party alleges that the other party has sexually or physically abused the child or has otherwise subjected the child to harm. A GALs appointment will terminate when a final disposition is made in the case unless the court orders otherwise.

What do GALs do? What may parents expect once a GAL is
appointed?

Once appointed, a Guardian Ad Litem may request all records relating to the minor child maintained by the Clerk of the Court in any county or jurisdiction, other social and human service agencies, the Department of Family and Children Services, and the Juvenile Court. The GAL appointed to a particular case may also examine all records maintained by any school, financial institution, hospital, doctor or other mental health provider, any other social or human services agency or financial institution pertaining to the child which are deemed confidential by the service provider. However, a written release or court order is necessary before a GAL may have access to confidential records. In addition to collecting and reviewing records and documentation concerning the child or children involved, the GAL may also examine the residence of the child, the child herself, and the child’s parents in order to determine what custodial arrangements may be in the child’s best interest. The GAL may also seek the examination of the child or the parents by a medical or mental health professional, if appropriate and necessary for the GAL to reach a determination.

After completing their investigation, GALs may file a written report of their findings with the court and/or may be expected to testify at a hearing or trial concerning the custody of welfare of the minor child or children involved.  If a GAL is appointed to a case, parents should expect the GAL to interview individuals who have contact with the child, including teachers, doctors, parents, and family friends, visit the child’s home to examine the living conditions and speak to the child directly in order to determine the child’s wishes or concerns.  It is important for parents to be honest and forthcoming with a GAL assigned to their case, as it is the GAL’s responsibility to determine what is in the best interest of the child based on objective evidence.  However, if the GAL makes a recommendation against either parent, that parent may challenge that GAL’s recommendation at trial. It should be noted that judges do not always follow a GAL’s recommendation as to who should get custody of the child.

Why is a GAL important to my Georgia child custody case?

Because Georgia courts take the recommendations of the GAL very seriously, your entire case could rest on the GAL’s opinion of you. If the GAL believes you are an unfit parent, they may recommend that the judge award custody to your spouse and possibly even limit visitation. To ensure that you protect your rights and your child’s best interests, enlist the help of a child custody attorney. Attorney Crystal Wright will represent you throughout your case and make sure the GAL is representing your child’s best interests.

Contact the Crystal Wright Law Firm to schedule a consultation today: (404) 594 2143

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