Divorces are emotionally difficult for the whole family. In Florida, most dissolution cases will first be referred to mediation and if no agreement is made, then the case proceeds to trial where the Judge will make the decision about custody and time sharing over your children. Cases that make it this far are typically high conflict cases, where parents refuse to compromise on any number of issues. Allegations from either parent may be made against the other parent about issues regarding the children of the marriage such as abuse, neglect, or substance abuse.
Often, the Judge will want to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to investigate the allegations of each parent concerning the child or children. This will involve the guardian ad litem conducting interviews of the child, the parties, other potential witnesses (such as school personnel, medical and other health care providers, and neighbors).
- Why have a guardian ad litem appointed?
In cases where there is high conflict, the guardian ad litem will investigate the allegations in a way that is simply not available to the judge. Typically, the child will not testify. It is very stressful for children to be in the middle of a divorce and therefore, they typically do not testify. The preferred method by the family court is to appoint someone to investigate and give an opinion to the court about the best interests of the child(ren)
- Who pays for the guardian ad litem?
The judge determines who pays the guardian ad litem. Unless there is a big difference in how much each party makes, you should be prepared to pay ½ of the guardian ad litem’s fees if you ask the judge to appoint one.
- My spouse has coached the child(ren) on what to say, so what good is it to have a guardian ad litem appointed?
My job as a guardian ad litem is to get to know your child through all the resources available to me, including teachers, coaches, and other neutral influences in your child’s life. Interviews with the Parents and the Child(ren) are important, but I analyze them with many other sources of information to help get to what’s really going on in the family dynamic.
- Do YOU have kids?
Christine Smith – “Yes. I have one teenage daughter. My husband and I have also parented children through fostering children. I also represent children in juvenile dependency court as their attorney ad litem on a regular basis”.
- What is the difference between an attorney ad litem and a guardian ad litem?
An attorney can be hired to serve in place of a guardian ad litem, and they both serve similar roles in the court process. An attorney ad litem represents the child directly as his/her own attorney and will advocate for the child’s expressed wishes during the divorce process. A guardian ad litem also advocates for the child but is not the child’s attorney. Rather a guardian ad litem serves as a witness to make recommendations as to what decisions would be in the child’s best interest based on interviews with individuals in the child’s life.
- Will the guardian ad litem testify?
Once appointed, the guardian ad litem investigates and renders a report and recommendations. The guardian ad litem can also testify in court. Most guardian ad litems and judges will include a waiver of hearsay in the order appointing the guardian ad litem to aide the court.