In our last post, we talked about the role of the social investigator in a Florida divorce trial. The judge may order that a social investigation be conducted to help him or her make more informed decisions about custody and parenting time. The social investigation focuses on each parent’s strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis parenting, as well as on each of their homes, in light of what would be in the child’s best interests. The judge is free to use the investigator’s study and recommendations as evidence.
The guardian ad litem is a different professional who may become involved in a divorce trial or other court proceedings involving children. A guardian ad litem must either be certified under state law or a lawyer.
While the role of the social investigator is to assess the parents, the guardian ad litem’s function is to “act as the next friend of the child, investigator or evaluator.” Every action of a guardian ad litem must be in the child’s best interest.
A guardian ad litem, however, may not act as an “attorney or advocate” (although a lawyer may act as a guardian ad litem). While the judge may separately appoint a lawyer for the child, it may not be the same person acting as guardian ad litem.
Either parent may file a motion for appointment of a guardian ad litem. Whether to appoint a guardian ad litem is the judge’s discretionary decision, except if there are “well-founded” allegations of “child abuse, abandonment, or neglect,” the judge must appoint one. A guardian ad litem may retain his or her own lawyer in the proceedings.
Powers and responsibilities of a Florida guardian ad litem
Florida statute lays out specific authority of the guardian ad litem:
- Investigate allegations that affect the child’s best interests, including interviewing the child or anyone else who knows information affecting the child’s welfare
- Request a court order to allow him or her to review medical or other records relating to the child, the parents, others with custody, or others in the household
- Request that the court order a medical examination, including a mental health examination, of the child, the parents or other interested persons
- Help the court get “impartial expert examinations”
- Communicate with the court, including recommendations, and file a mandatory written report that can include recommendations and the child’s wishes
- File pleadings, participate in all proceedings and compel the appearance of witnesses
- Provide recommendations to the judge about any parent or other stipulation or agreement concerning the child’s welfare
At our firm, we advise parents about all matters related to guardian ad litem appointment and powers.