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Guardians ad Litem in Florida child custody disputes

In divorces and custody disputes, it seems that every party gets a lawyer except the children. In Miami-Dade County and Broward County, courts often appoint a Guardian ad Litems (GAL) to advocate on behalf of minor-aged children. This blog will discuss when a guardian ad litem is appropriate and their role in the legal process. 

When Will A Guardian Ad Litem Be Appointed?

GALs are independent and cannot be retained specifically by either party. If the court decides an ad Litem is necessary, the name will be selected from a list of qualified individuals. The GAL's primary goal is to advocate on behalf of the child caught in the middle of a custody dispute or anytime the court is concerned that the parents are placing their own concerns above the welfare of the child.

In divorces and custody disputes involving domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse, the GAL may be appointed to work directly with the children to determine whether circumstances warrant removal by Child Protective Services (CPS).

The Guardian Ad Litem's Role

The GAL will typically meet with the children to understand their concerns about the custody dispute. Depending upon the children's needs, the GAL may set up regular meetings to monitor whether conditions in the home are changing. When working with the children, the GAL will take into account a variety of conditions, including ages, school and social circumstances, medical issues and emotional state. While the GAL does not legally represent the children, he or she is in a position to "testify" on the children's behalf, which the judge will rely on when making decisions about custody and parenting time.

Particularly when teenagers are part of the equation, a court-appointed GAL can instill a sense of confidence that the children's best interests are being kept as the court's highest priority. According to the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, studies indicate that children who have been appointed a GAL during divorce or custody dispute demonstrate improved grades in school and spend less time in foster care if they have been removed from the home.

It is important to remember that a GAL appointment may be requested by either parent during the legal process but will not serve in a representative capacity to to either parent. The GAL advocates for the children and is responsible for reporting to the court only. If you are involved in a custody dispute in your divorce or paternity litigation matter in South Florida, talk to attorney David B. Mitchell in Coral Gables.

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