While divorce is often stressful for anyone, divorces involving children can be all the more challenging. Even when both parents make a sincere effort to remain civil, child custody issues can be complicated and emotional.
In the event that tensions between parents escalate to the point of hostility, the children can suffer for it. In such cases, the Texas courts will often appoint a guardian ad litem to best protect children throughout the divorce process.
What Is the Role of a Guardian ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem, or GAL, is a court-appointed individual whose sole interest is the welfare of the child. Because a GAL is appointed by the court, they lack connections with either party, meaning that they do not represent either parent in any way.
The purpose of a guardian ad litem is to provide the judge with sufficient information to see both sides of the case objectively and reach a fair ruling that prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of the child. Throughout the process of gathering this information, the GAL will speak to and for the child.
While children over 12 are permitted to speak with the judge privately upon request, those under 12 typically are not. As you can imagine, this makes the GAL especially important, as this individual ultimately represents the child’s voice. Their role is to listen to the child, understand their side of the story, and sometimes give an opinion about court orders that pertain to the child. The GAL may then go to the judge with the child's concerns.
As the divorce progresses, the GAL often becomes the sole recipient of the child’s trust. It isn’t uncommon for children to feel like pawns in a divorce, as some parents will attempt to use the child as leverage or coach them to lie about the other parent. If such misconduct goes far enough, that child may even be forced to testify in court—something neither the GAL nor the judge want.
How a Guardian ad Litem Conducts Their Investigation
An experienced GAL will be able to tell from a child's behavior which parent is manipulating him and put a stop to it, often helping the child feel safer during the divorce proceedings. Meanwhile, the GAL will gather as much information as possible to present to the judge. One way in which this is done is through a series of interviews.
All parties contacted for interviews are legally obligated to cooperate with the GAL. If they do not, they may be subpoenaed. If a “Release of Information” form must be signed, the responsible person must sign it. It’s crucial for the GAL to possess all information possible concerning the child, as they cannot do their job thoroughly or effectively without it.
Guardian ad litem interviews may include speaking with various people, including (but not limited to):
- School counselors
- Family members and relatives
- Any witnesses to any alleged abuses
In some cases, the guardian ad litem may speak with the parents themselves. Anyone involved with the child in any way should participate in an interview if necessary.
Guardian ad Litem & Informal Discovery
A GAL has the authority to examine any documentation concerning the child. This is important where there may be factual disagreements.
For example, when one parent coaches a child to say something about the other, they often forget that accusations may be researched and verified. Instances of alleged physical abuse may be verified by medical files, police reports, and even eyewitness accounts.
Alleged drug abuse may also be verified by:
- Police reports
- Drug tests
- Eye witness accounts
- Records from rehab facilities
…and more. Records kept by teachers and school counselors at the time of the divorce can also provide observations of any alleged mental or physical abuse. Social media can also provide supporting evidence, such as emails and photographs that support or debunk accusations. Any of these may be gathered and included in the GAL’s report.
Given today’s technology, it isn’t unusual for GALs to collect information from a wide range of digital sources. As one may predict, this can make it challenging for judges to gain a comprehensive understanding of the evidence in its totality, as such information is often impossible to review within the time limitations of a standard court session.
By compiling a factual, impartial report, along with a recommendation from the GAL regarding custody of the child, the judge can rely on that information to render a decision that will be best for the child.
Experienced Legal Advocacy for Texas Families
We understand that parents want what is best for their children. That's why our firm is committed to ensuring that your paternal rights are protected. Whether you’re hoping to modify a child custody order or successfully navigate the legal complexities of adoption, our compassionate family lawyers are dedicated to protecting the rights of Texas families.
Our knowledgeable legal team at the Law Office of Nancy Perry Eaton, PLLC has experience in a range of family disputes. When you partner with us, you can expect to work with a skilled legal advocate who will prioritize your needs from start to finish. When it comes to protecting yourself and your loved ones, turn to a Texas firm with an in-depth understanding of family law.
When preparing for family court, Texans should turn to a family lawyer they can trust. Our firm has extensive experience in a range of family matters. Call (254) 221-8588 to schedule a consultation.