What should a Virginia Guardian ad litem be doing?

Guardians ad litem are tricky. But they’re often necessary. And, perhaps even more to the point, we often don’t have a choice – they’re appointed in cases when a judge deems it necessary based on the best interests of the child, so sometimes, we just have to grin and bear it.

It’s scary, to trust so much to someone you don’t know. Someone who isn’t your attorney. Someone who’ll meet with your child, probably (really, almost certainly) without you present, and will ultimately make a recommendation regarding custody to the court.

Lots of people hate their guardian ad litems. They come in, telling us all the terrible things their guardian ad litem has done, and then wait, expectantly, for us to tell them how we’ll be able to jump in the case and have the guardian ad litem removed from the case immediately.

…But, unfortunately, that’s not really the case. Guardians ad litem, once appointed, are generally in the case to stay, and there’s very little that can be done to get rid of them. That’s the case almost without exception. I’ve heard of very few cases where guardians ad litem are actually removed from cases. And I’ve heard plenty of cases where some pretty crazy stuff happens. (It seems to me that custody cases have a pretty disproportionate number of people doing crazy things, though, so take that with a grain of salt.)

What should a guardian ad litem be doing?

So, before you know whether your guardian ad litem has breached some kind of duty to you or your child, you should probably know a little bit more about what their job should even look like – right? I mean, that’s probably the first step.

Lucky for you, that’s pretty specific. There’s a whole list of exactly what the required responsibilities are of a guardian ad litem for children. You can read about it here.  A GAL for kids usually meets with the kid, talks to them, conducts home visits, talks to the parents, etc., etc. A lot of times we hear complaints – the guardian talked to the child at school, the guardian talked to dad more than me, and on and on – but the reality is that, if these things are happening, that’s a good thing.

Sometimes, these things don’t happen. Hey, I’m not naïve. I know that GALs aren’t perfect. I know that, sometimes, things don’t happen the way you wish they might – certainly not the way they are described in the list. But…before you get all indignant…chill out.

What if my GAL is NOT doing those things?

Chances are still good that your GAL won’t be removed from your case. I know, I know – life isn’t fair, and on and on. Get it out of your system. I don’t say this to be cruel, I say this to encourage you to get your head in the game. Focus on what’s important. And what’s important? CUSTODY! Obviously.

So, regardless of whether you and the GAL are BFF or whether you hate her guts, you’re going to need to focus all of your considerable energy on doing whatever you can to make a favorable impression. Act like that person is going to be telling a judge what should happen to your children in a few months – because, chances are, he or she will be doing just that, regardless of your opinion of him or her. So, play nice.

My guardian ad litem already hates me! How can I fix the relationship?

I like where your mind is right now. I know some things may have gone down already that have made you feel like your relationship with the guardian ad litem isn’t the best. Rather than focusing your energy on how to have him or her kicked out of your case, you need to focus on how to repair the relationship.
To you, this is personal. It’s your kids. It’s important. It’s emotional.

To the guardian ad litem, it’s not personal. It’s professional. In most cases, you won’t go wrong with starting off a conversation by saying, “I think we got off on the wrong foot, and I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I just love my kids, and I want what’s best for them, and I think I was a little emotional when we first met.” And go from there.

It’s not easy – no one likes the taste of crow – but a little bit of humility now can serve you well in the future. And you’ll likely find that the guardian’s opinion isn’t nearly so formed as you might have thought. He or she is LOOKING to give credence to you; he or she is LOOKING to find reasons why the children might benefit from contact with you. It doesn’t give a GAL pleasure to recommend that kids be with one parent rather than both.

If you have an attorney, talk to your attorney before you start to take any big steps with the guardian ad litem – but you’re going to want to try to repair that relationship sooner rather than later.

If you still think your GAL is the worst person in the entire world, and you’re committed to trying to have him or her removed (even though you’ll likely fail), you should still try to play nice.  You should still try to do whatever you can to fix the relationship because, chances are, the GAL will not be removed.  Talk to your attorney, if it makes you feel better, and see if yours is one of the totally egregious cases where a guardian might be removable — probably not — and whether it’s worth the time and expense involved to try to attempt it.  (I mean, just think — if you try it, and lose — your GAL will really, really hate you…and THEN what happens to your custody case?)  It’s a huge risk.  And almost certainly one that’s not worth attempting, but, if it makes you feel better, you can at least talk to your attorney about it.

The guardian ad litem is an important person. It matters what he or she thinks about you, and it’s better to repair that relationship now, before the eve of trial. For more information, or how to work better with the guardian ad litem in your Virginia custody case, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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