From First impressions to the Home Visit to the Final Hearing, here are seven tips from a practicing Ohio Guardian ad Litem that will help you and your case. A Guardian ad Litem is a Latin term that is literally defined as “Guardian ‘for the lawsuit.’”. A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is appointed by the Court as a neutral third party, whose duty it is to represent the best interests of the minor child to the Court. You can use the following seven tips to help prepare yourself for everything that comes with a GAL.
1. First impressions matter!
GALs are like anyone else, the first story that they hear is likely to be the one that they remember the best. Be proactive, if you are appointed a GAL, be the first to call, the first to pay, and the first to meet with them one on one. This establishes a narrative. This is the first step in the investigation, after the first impression is established, it is up to you to continue to be available and accessible to the GAL while they perform their thorough investigation at your home, at your child’s school and talk with the important people in your lives. The best thing you can do for yourself is to show the GAL the good hearted and responsible person and parent that you are!
2. Be Relaxed, Be Prepared
Ask that the first meeting, is at the GAL’s office not at your home. Treat it like an interview, but make every effort to appear relaxed and at ease. Of course you are going to be nervous, this perfect stranger is going to be making recommendations that could affect your life and your children’s lives! The best thing you can do is to be prepared: bring report cards, medical records, and letters from friends and family, and printed out photos of text messages or Facebook posts for the GAL to review.
3. Inform your children, but don’t Involve them.
The GAL will be doing home visits and maybe even meeting your children at school. The children will need to have some idea about who the GAL is and what their role is. Experience has taught me that the best practice is to tell them to be honest and that the GAL is a friend.
However, be careful! There is a fine line between filling your children in and putting them under the stress of being in the middle. Never question your children after the GAL leaves about the conversation. Those conversations are confidential between the child and the GAL.
4. Ensure a good Home Visit
First impressions are important, so be sure to clean the home to the best of your ability. When the GAL arrives, be sure to take the GAL on a tour of the home and highlight areas where the children are taken into account, (i.e. their room, a playroom, outdoor playground, special foods if there are dietary restrictions, etcetera). Don’t forget to discuss the neighborhood! If the school or a park or friends and family are close by, mention it! The GAL looks at the child’s connection to their Home, School and Community. Help the GAL see that connection by bringing it up yourself. If you live with a significant other or family member, have them be available to talk to the GAL as well.
5. Admit your Flaws and Progress
No one is perfect, and if you know that the opposing party is bringing up issues with you or your parenting, don’t shy away from discussing them! It is important for the GAL to get both sides of the story, instead of just accusations.
If you know that you have mental health or physical health issues, address the subject and tell the GAL what plans and supports you have in place to help you and provide documentation to support it.
6. Stay Current on Your Bill
The GAL is appointed by the court and must complete their investigation in order to keep their certification. Many GALs work at reduced rates, and you must comply with the Court’s orders to pay them. You will be responsible for the entire investigation, not just the time spent talking with you or spending time at your home. The court will divide a percentage of how much you owe. It is typically 50%/50%, but can be changed based on income of the parties and other facts in the case.
If you are unable to pay a retainer, ask to be set up on a payment plan. Always be proactive. If you don’t pay your bill, the Court can restrict your ability to present evidence, hold you in contempt and even dismiss your case outright.
7. Follow up and advocate for yourself and your family!
After the initial meeting and home visit, you may not have as much contact with the GAL and only see them at the Court hearings. However, email the GAL with updates, attach text messages and other evidence to support your statements. If you have an attorney, blind copy (bcc) them on your emails so that they stay in the loop as well. Written communication is better than phone calls. If there is an emergency though, do both.
Summing it Up
The GAL is one of the people in the case who can have a significant effect on the outcome of your custody dispute. Many Magistrates and Judges rely on the opinion and recommendation of the GAL because they don’t have the ability to leave the Court and investigate each and every case they have. That is why it essential that you be in contact with the GAL and provide him or her with the evidence and information that they need to get the full picture about your family and your case. At the end of the day the GAL is there for the support and advocacy of the child and to help parties who cannot agree to come to a decision about the best interest of their children. Let the GAL get to know you and your children, so that they will be able to make an accurate and realistic recommendation for your family.
Have a GAL, but no attorney?
If you are going through a divorce and your children have a Guardian Ad Litem appointed, and you do not have an attorney, now -if not when divorce papers were served- might be the time to retain an attorney. The decisions the GAL makes will affect your lives greatly, and you will want to make sure that your best interests will be taken into consideration. If you are in Ohio and without legal representation, then contact us today to set up a free half hour consult.