Issues related to minor children are at the forefront of the divorce process in New York, as the laws go to great lengths to protect their interests when it comes to custody, visitation, and related matters. However, divorcing parents often have competing approaches to living arrangements and raising the child. Judges have extremely busy schedules and can’t be in two places at once, so it’s tough to make a determination that’s in the best interests of the child.
Under such circumstances, the court may appoint an official called a “guardian ad litem” to investigate the child’s situation and report back. This individual isn’t a guardian in the familiar sense, so it can be confusing to understand his or her function in a divorce proceeding. It’s wise to trust a New York family law attorney to handle the details any time your child’s interests are before the court, but an overview may be useful.
Reasons a Guardian Ad Litem May Be Appointed: In general, a judge may designate a guardian ad litem (GAL) any time there are disputes over custody, visitation, residential arrangements, or any other issues regarding a minor child. Under New York’s statute on Appointment of Guardian ad Litem, the topic comes before the court upon a motion by:
- A party to the divorce action, i.e., either parent;
- A relative, conservator, or legally appointed guardian; or,
- The court itself, if the circumstances require it or the parents have indicated that there will be contest issues in raising the child.
The Role of the Guardian Ad Litem: Individuals under the age of 18 years old don’t have capacity in the legal sense, so they cannot appear in court on their own behalf. Many legal experts refer to the GAL as the “eyes and ears of the court” for someone who is legally incapacitated, since the judge isn’t in the position to do so personally. The guardian ad litem is an official liaison to observe and advocate on the child’s behalf, so this individual may pay visits to the places and situations that are part of the minor’s routine. This may include visits at the homes of each parent, if they are living apart. There may also be interactions with school officials, other relatives, and other persons that are closely involved with the child’s life.
The point of the GAL’s duties is to understand the child’s current living arrangements, relationships, and routine. After completing the investigation and conducting interviews, the guardian ad litem can report back to the court to the judge on custody and visitation issues.
What You Need to Know About GALs in New York Divorce Cases: The court gives a certain amount of deference to the report and input of the guardian ad litem, so there’s a good chance the judge will pay close attention to the GAL’s recommendations. You should take note and discuss the following factors with your divorce attorney:
- Though the GAL may have legal training, this person is NOT your child’s attorney. There may be certain situations where you want to consider hiring a separate lawyer, but the guardian ad litem serves the court in the divorce process.
- A GAL has expansive authority to investigate many aspects of your child’s life, so it’s likely that each parent will be interviewed.
- A guardian ad litem is focused on your child’s best interests and making recommendations to the court on what would best serve your child’s needs. Though it may seem so at times when you’re facing probing questions, the GAL doesn’t have a personal vendetta.
- Compensation for a guardian ad litem comes from whatever financial resources are at stake in a court case; in a divorce proceeding, this is likely to be your marital assets. A judge will carefully review the GAL’s fees before making an award for fees, but – as long as they’re reasonable – it’s likely that you’ll be paying for the guardian ad litem out of the divorce estate.
Contact a New York Family Law Attorney for More Information
If you feel a GAL should be appointed to address custody and visitation in your divorce case, or if one has already entered the picture, don’t hesitate to contact The Mandel Law Firm right away. You put your parental rights at risk if you try to handle the matter yourself, and there may be long-term implications for your relationship with your child.
Please call (646) 770-3868 or go online to schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable lawyer who focuses on family law matters. Once we have a chance to review your circumstances, we can advise you on strategies to obtain the best possible outcome.