A Guardian Ad Litem, also referred to as a GAL, is a person appointed by the court to represent the best interests of minor children who are affected by court cases involving child custody issues, divorces or dissolutions. GALs are required to follow rules and standards laid out in Rule 48 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio.
Unless Children Services is involved in the court case, the litigation parties are responsible for paying the GAL. The rate charged and the deposit required by each GAL varies depending on experience. Typically, GAL costs are divided equally between the parties unless there is a good reason to do otherwise, such as a significant difference in income between the parties. After making an initial deposit, the parties will receive a monthly statement from the GAL’s office.
It is important that a GAL is someone a magistrate and judge can trust to conduct a thorough investigation and provide a recommendation about the best interest of the children at hearings and trial. GALs make many recommendations including where a child should go to school and what visitation schedule is best.
Because GALs make important recommendations, they are given significant autonomy when conducting their investigation. GALs will have access to children and to their schools, doctors and counselors and any other professional or information, so they can offer an objective and fair recommendation. GALs will also interview the parties and relevant witnesses either in person or by phone and complete visits to each home to learn more about the children and to see whether or not the children’s basic needs are being met.
If you work with a GAL it is important to be accessible, be honest, pay your retainer early, and keep up to date with payments. When introducing a Guardian ad Litem to your child, be honest, but age appropriate. With younger children, you might tell them a GAL is a friend. With older children, you might tell them the GAL is involved in the court case, so they have a voice in the legal process. Never tell a child that they have to choose between loved ones and never tell a child what to say or how to answer questions. It is best to be yourself when interacting with a GAL and to remember that a GAL is involved to give your child(ren) a voice during a challenging journey in the court system.