A guardian-ad-litem (GAL) is a specially trained and certified professional whom the court may appoint in a divorce or custody proceeding to act as a child’s “next friend … investigator or evaluator.” The judge has discretion to appoint the GAL if it would be in the child’s best interest and may do so of their own accord or in response to a motion by either parent. The GAL becomes an actual, participating party in the divorce or custody proceeding and may have their own lawyer.
GALs are subject to background and security checks and have certain duties of confidentiality. They may be a licensed lawyer, but the person in the GAL role specifically is not to function as an “attorney or advocate” and a GAL who is not a lawyer may not practice law. The court has discretion to appoint a different person as the child’s actual lawyer if the child needs that kind of advocate in the divorce or custody proceeding.
Appointment of a GAL is mandatory if there is a “well-founded” allegation of child abuse, neglect or abandonment.
What powers does guardian ad litem have?
What can, or must a GAL do as a child’s next friend, investigator or evaluator? Florida law says that they have the “powers, privileges, and responsibilities to the extent necessary to advance the best interests of the child …” The GAL statute lists particular GAL powers or responsibilities, but the GAL is not limited to those, depending on what would be in the child’s best interest.
The listed powers include:
- Investigate allegations that affect the child, including interviewing the child and people with information about the child’s welfare.
- Ask the court to order a person, organization or agency to allow the GAL access to records (including medical records) about the child, the parents, other custodians or household members.
- Request that the judge order expert medical or mental-health examinations of the child, parents or other interested parties.
- Assist the court in arranging “impartial expert examinations.”
- Make recommendations to the court orally or in writing and produce a mandatory written report of the GAL’s recommendations and the child’s wishes.
- File pleadings, petitions for relief or motions in court.
- Submit a mandatory recommendation to the judge about any stipulation or agreement that would impact the child’s “interest or welfare.”
Any Florida parent in a proceeding where a GAL is or may become a party, who must respond to a GAL investigation or who is considering a motion to appoint one can seek advice from an experienced Florida family lawyer.