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Why Would a GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) Favor Non-Parent in Child Custody Cases?

Uncategorized Oct 05, 2017

Why would a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) favor the non-parent who is not the biological parent of the child when trying to determine what's in the best interests of the child?

Before I delve into answering this question let me explain what GAL stands for in legal speak. GAL means guardian ad litem and a guardian ad litem is an individual, usually an attorney who is appointed by the court to represent the interests of the child. Oftentimes the GAL is given special powers by the court where they can investigate allegations that are being made or where they can observe interaction between the child and the involved parties.

 The GAL al may be able to talk with the child if the child is old enough to express his or her wishes.   So there are a lot of functions that this GAL can perform.  And the GAL then can provide a report or an update to the court and provide recommendations about what he or she thinks is in the best interests of the child.  So in this case the viewer is asking why is it that a GAL may recommend that a non- parent be the one to have parenting time or custody of the child?  Or maybe favor the non-parents. I don't know the laws of all states.  I only know the laws in Arizona. I can tell you that the best interest factors apply throughout all states and through many countries in the world.  So if a GAL is making a recommendation that doesn't favor the biological parent my guess is the GAL has observed something about the parent that gives him or her cause for concern.

The observation may be that somehow the parent is neglecting the child or is abusing the child or maybe as a drug abuser or has domestic violence issues or an anger management problem.  There are a lot of reasons why a GAL might make a recommendation that favors a non-parent.  Having said that, courts want to favor the parent.  They want to give custody and they want to get parenting time to the biological parent of a child above other third parties.  And often it's a high burden for a non-parent to show that that non-parent should get custody or should get the child most of the time.   I would suspect that any observations or recommendations that the GAL is making are pretty serious.  I will say however there have been cases that I've been involved in where the GAL is just plain wrong.   Perhaps they haven't devoted enough time to the case or investigated enough or talked to the parent as much as they should have.  Oftentimes jails are overburdened because they have so many cases and they just don't devote the energy that they need to get to the bottom of what's in the best interest of the children. 

So while the GAL’s recommendation does carry weight, there are ways to combat the recommendations of the GAL.  Just because jail is saying something should be doesn't mean that the court is going to order it to be. I've had several cases where there have been recommendations that don't favor my client and we've been able to unravel those by picking apart the GAL’s opinion or report.  So whatever side you're on just make sure that your GAL is aware of all of the things that he or she should be looking at of all of the circumstances that exist.   If you're the parent who the GAL is making recommendations against but you've taken steps to improve the things that the GAL has an issue with, let the GAL know.  If taking classes show certificates that you've graduated from.  If you've gone to rehab for example, provide evidence that you went to rehab. Show the GAL what you're doing that that would convince him or her that you are taking your role as a parent seriously.  Just don't lose hope.