What is a Guardian ad Litem?
While many couples are able to reach out-of-court divorce settlements regarding issues like child custody or visitation, or are otherwise able to amicably dissolve their marriages, this is not always possible. This can have serious consequences when a couple’s child is caught in the crossfire, so in an effort to avoid this, courts are often required to step in and appoint a third party, known as a Guardian ad Litem, to gather information about the family and then make recommendations for a custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interests. For more information on the responsibilities of Guardian ad Litems in Florida, please contact an experienced child custody attorney today.
The Duties of a Guardian ad Litem
In Florida, a court can appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of a child in a custody or divorce case and to act as that child’s advocate. Although individuals appointed by the court to act in this capacity do not legally represent children like an attorney would, they are permitted to issue findings regarding the type of child custody arrangement that they believe would be in the child’s best interests. This opinion is only issued after a lengthy investigative process, in which the Guardian ad Litem obtains court approval to access the psychological and medical records of the child and his or her parents and to request evaluations of all parties by medical doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other healthcare professionals, who are tasked with detecting evidence of:
- Substance abuse;
- Domestic violence;
- Mental illness; or
- Any other issue that could affect the child’s well-being.
Guardian ad Litems are also permitted to conduct home visits to assess the safety of a child’s home and to visit a child’s school, speak with teachers and counselors, and even interview coaches for extracurricular activities. Finally, after reviewing records and conducting interviews, the Guardian ad Litem creates a report documenting his or her findings and recommendations. This recommendation is not a final decision and courts are not required to implement it, although it can influence a judge’s decision. In fact, parents have the option of disputing the findings recorded in the report or to raise an issue that was overlooked during the investigation, as Florida law requires courts to send a copy of the document to a child’s parents no less than 20 days before the court hearing.
In most divorce and paternity cases, Guardian ad Litems are paid by the child’s parents or guardians unless they have limited income and the appointed party agrees to accept a lower fee. The amount that each party will be required to pay is determined by the judge, who will set the fee as part of the order appointing the Guardian ad Litem.
Call Today to Schedule a Free Consultation
If you are involved in a divorce or custody proceeding and have questions about the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, please contact Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. at 954-945-7591 today.