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  • Joseph Curcio

What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem of a Child in Cases Involving Custody or Visitation?

Updated: May 4, 2022

In Virginia, a Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”) is a specially-trained attorney who a court has appointed to represent the best interests of a child or person under a disability.

In this post, I will be focusing specifically on the responsibilities and importance of a GAL appointed to a child in a custody or visitation case.

Role of the GAL

A GAL who is appointed to represent the best interests of a child serves a variety of key functions throughout the life of the case. Those functions typically include: 1) conducting an investigation to determine the child’s best interests, 2) advocating for that child’s best interests at court proceedings, 3) producing an oral or written report to the judge concerning the findings of the GAL’s investigation, and 4) providing a recommendation to the judge as to the child’s best interests.

The GAL’s investigation may take different forms depending on the nature of the case. At a minimum, a GAL should conduct a meeting with the child in question. The particulars of that interaction will depend on the preferences of the GAL, the age and maturity of the child, and the location or method in which the meeting takes place, as well as other case-specific considerations. Often, the GAL will want to interview any party who has or has petitioned for custody or visitation of the child, as well as any other potential witness who has knowledge of the facts at issue. Depending on the child’s situation, the GAL may also choose to contact the child’s education, medical, or counseling providers and procure relevant documentation from those entities. The GAL’s investigation may last the length of the case, evolve in scope over time, and necessitate multiple interviews with multiple people.

At court proceedings, the GAL can perform all the same functions of any other attorney involved in the case. In contested proceedings, such functions may include calling witnesses to testify, cross-examining witnesses, submitting evidence for the court’s consideration, and issuing objections to evidence submitted by other parties. Occasionally, matters may be able to be resolved by agreement between the parties without need for a contested proceeding. In such cases, the GAL’s recommendation can often help facilitate such agreements.

If a case is contested, the GAL will often be asked by the Court to provide a report as to the findings of the GAL’s investigation. A GAL’s report may be submitted in oral or written form. In either case, the report often can contain hearsay statements from the GAL’s child or other individual interviewed as part of the GAL’s investigation that might otherwise be difficult to introduce into evidence. Because the GAL’s report is still subject to the rules of evidence, a party can sometimes benefit from having retained counsel to object to any hearsay statements contained in the report that could prove damaging to the party’s case.

The GAL will also typically be asked by the Court to provide a recommendation as to how to resolve the matter consistent with the child’s best interests. The GAL’s recommendation can be adopted by the Court in whole or in part, or the Court can choose to completely ignore the recommendation and resolve the matter in an entirely different way.

Interacting with the GAL

Because the GAL often plays such a vital role in the outcome of any case where one is appointed, it is often in a party’s interest to fully comply with that GAL as he or she conducts his or her investigation. For this reason, I often advise my clients to proactively contact the GAL at the beginning of the case and provide him or her with information that may aid the investigation, as well as provide access both to the child at issue and to the party’s residence, for the purpose of conducting a home visit. Remember, a GAL often begins a case knowing little about the facts at issue. By openly communicating with the GAL, a party can ensure that the GAL takes into consideration facts that are supportive of that party.

Consult An Attorney

Regardless of your circumstances, it can be worthwhile to consult with an experienced family law attorney to explore your legal options.

Please be mindful that every case has different facts and can implicate different areas of the law. As such, the subject matter contained within this article should not be interpreted as specific legal advice for any individual case. Please contact Curcio & Curcio, PC at 276-466-3377 if you are need of any of the following:

  • An attorney in Bristol, VA

  • An attorney in Abingdon, VA or the broader Washington County area

  • An attorney in Marion, VA or the broader Smyth County area

  • An attorney in the broader Southwest Virginia area.

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