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Understanding the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem

When you bring a family law case to the courts, there are a myriad of professionals and factors at play. This can be a stressful time for the whole family and having your case impacted from so many different angles can add further complexity.

One of the roles in family law cases involving children many families may not be familiar with is the Guardian ad Litem. These are court-appointed attorneys who represent your children in divorce, custody, or other family law cases where custody and visitation of the child(ren) are at issue. At the final trial, the Guardian ad Litem will provide the Court with their recommendation regarding custody and visitation of their clients, i.e. your children. So, what do you need to know if one is appointed in your case?

They Are Licensed Attorneys

These aren’t just any advocates for your child’s situation – they are licensed attorneys who are certified to serve this role. This means they have a full understanding of the applicable law and will navigate within the confines of Virginia code.

This expertise doesn’t come for free in Virginia. While some states only use these on a volunteer basis, Virginia courts will either pay them themselves or require one or both parents to pay for their services. They are paid an hourly rate of $75 when in court and $55 for additional hours outside of court. If the Guardian’s cumulative fees exceed $500, the same must be itemized to ensure your or the court’s money is going to the right place.

They Serve the Best Interests of the Child

Guardian ad Litems are appointed by the court, and can be appointed on the Court’s own motion or at the request of either party. A request does not guarantee one will be assigned and a request for one does not guarantee a Guardian ad Litem will recommend the result you desire. Their purpose is to make sure the best interests of the child are being served and that they are not exposed to harm or neglect on the part of either parent.

Even if you are the only parent required by the court to pay for the fees you still will not receive any favorable treatment. A Guardian ad Litem’s recommendations do weigh heavily in a court case as they are presumed to be unbiased in their process.

A Guardian ad Litem Has Some Evidentiary Leeway

Hearsay is not welcome in court. Third-party accounts are hard to prove without hearing from the original source of the information. For example, if you’re arguing for custody of your child and state that you heard from your child’s teacher that your child is being abused by their other parent the opposing party will likely object to this information and it will not be admitted into evidence.

A Guardian ad Litem, however, will generally be able to enter such information into the record. They will have access to your child, their therapist, and other parties who have insight into your child’s circumstances. Interviews with your child and those third parties can be referenced by the Guardian ad Litem throughout the case. It’s worth considering this when deciding whether or not to request one – if you know a third party has information that can assist you in court but can’t call them to the stand then a Guardian ad Litem may be able to get that information on the record or it will least be influential in their ultimate recommendation.

Good Cause Is Required If Both Parties Have Counsel

While these representatives may sound sensible for all cases involving children, Virginia statute requires “good cause” if both parties are represented by competent counsel. Short of this, the Guardian ad Litem should not be appointed if both parties have counsel. That being said, many local Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts are inclined to appoint one if either party requests one. The court also has the ability to appoint one on its own motion if the Court believes it to be appropriate. 

Your Attorney May Advocate For One

At Rinehart Bryant, PLLC, we spend time with families and get to know their cases. There are times when we will advise our clients to request a Guardian ad Litem if we believe it will benefit our client’s case and serve the best interests of the child(ren).

The right attorney won’t be afraid to bring an independent representative into the courtroom if they get to know your case and are confident you will benefit from it. Contact your Virginia family law firm today and we’ll help you make that decision.

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