In an ideal world, all divorces would be amicable and children would suffer no ill effects from their parents’ separation. Unfortunately, not all divorces go smoothly, and individuals often have good and valid reasons for feeling negative towards a soon-to-be ex-spouse. When it comes to divorces that involve children and disputes over child custody that become heated and complex, Michigan lawmakers passed a law on public policy grounds that children in these situations should have advocates looking out for their best interests in court. These advocates are called guardians ad litem (GALs) and play an important role highly contested child custody disputes. A mother in Bloomfield Hills, going through a very drawn out and acrimonious custody battle, is asking the GAL assigned to the case be removed based on allegations the GAL ignored a therapist’s report that the current custody arrangement is hurting her three children. The parents divorced in 2011, so this dispute represents an extreme case of the length of time custody issues can take before a final decision is made. GALs have a lot of influence on the court in regards to decisions on child welfare matters, so an overview of a GAL’s role and authority in these cases will appear below.
When a Court Can Appoint a GAL
Courts are required to consider and protect the best interests of the child in any custody or parenting time dispute. If the court believes the interests of the child are not being heard at any time during a case, it has the authority to appoint a GAL to represent the child’s interest. Either parent also has the right to ask a court to appoint a GAL, and one or both parents may be required to pay for the GAL’s services if they have the financial ability to do so.
GAL’s Duties and Powers
A GAL represents the child’s legal interests in all aspects of custody dispute, meaning any communication between the child and GAL is subject to attorney-client confidentiality. Consequently, the GAL is entitled to attend and participate in all proceedings, obtain information relating to the child, and see the child in-person at times identified under Michigan law in order to assess the child’s needs. The GAL also takes the child’s wishes into consideration based on the child’s age and mental maturity, and communicates this information to the court. The most important aspect of a GAL’s duties is submitting reports to the court with recommendations on what is best for the child. The court can use this information when making decisions on child custody and parenting time, but may not admit a GAL’s report into evidence unless the parties in the case agree. The report can, however, be used by the parents’ in settlement negotiations. In addition, the GAL also monitors compliance with court orders related to the child in order to ensure implementation is happening in a timely manner and accomplishes the intended purpose.
Fighting over custody and parenting time is not easy for any parent, and it is important to make sure your rights and interests as a parent are well represented and protected in court. This is the function of a family law attorney, who should be employed in highly-disputed custody battles due to the enhanced complexity such cases create. The law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C., serving clients in the Detroit area, has years of experience representing clients in family law matters. Contact us for a free consultation.