Guardians ad litem are people that have been appointed by the court to represent “the best interests of the child” in court proceedings. In family court, guardians are appointed in contested custody and visitation cases, and cases where abuse or neglect has been alleged. Though guardians can be directly appointed by judges, in many contested custody and visitation cases the guardian is selected by the parties’ attorneys.
In these contentious custody cases the guardian is paid for by the parties. Though the guardian ad litem is typically an attorney, this is not always the case as anyone who meets the requirements can be a guardian in such cases (Ohio Superintendence Rule 48).
The guardian’s role is a bit of a mixture of investigator and advocate. Some guardians will tend towards one side and not the other; it depends on the circumstances of the case and the temperament of the individual guardian. Some are zealous advocates for the children while others act as reporters, documenting behavior and recording interactions between parents and child.
The guardian who acts as an investigator will try to develop a strong factual understanding of the life of the parents and child. Guardians are empowered to interview the parents and the children, observing them on multiple occasions and even conducting surprise home visits. The guardian can then present the court with information that a judge would want to know when making a decision concerning custody and visitation. The guardian who behaves more like an advocate can have more of a viewpoint, deciding which situation is a better fit for the child and attempting to influence the court to support this view.
Even the most balanced guardians can invariably influence judges in their final reports. A guardian whose final report that says the children are doing fabulously well with the mother or that the father is an alcoholic carries a lot of weight with judges and can ultimately be determinative. Such reports let the court know what’s going on so that they can make a recommendation as to custody.
As long as the guardian behaves appropriately, their view will typically carry great weight with the court. Given the influence they have with judges, a party in a custody or visitation dispute should be sure to cooperate with the guardian whenever possible. Make sure never to lie to the guardian and try to highlight the facts that you believe are important or that need to be investigated in the case.
If you find yourself facing the prospect of divorce, contact an experienced Ohio family law attorney who can help guide you through the difficult process. Count on the expertise of Twinsburg family law attorney Carol L. Gasper.
Source: “A Guardian Ad Litem Protects Best Interest of the Child,” published at OhioBar.org.
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