Guardian Ad Litem vs. Custody Evaluations: Weighing the Pros and Cons in Indiana

In child custody cases, Indiana courts have two primary tools at their disposal to assess the best interests of the child: guardian ad litem (GAL) appointments and custody evaluations. While both serve the same ultimate goal, they differ in their approaches, processes, and potential impact. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each can help parents make informed decisions as they navigate these challenging proceedings. This blog discusses the pros and cons of GAL and custody evaluations in Indiana custody proceedings. 

A guardian ad litem is an individual appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interest in a custody case. In Indiana, GALs are typically attorneys or court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) who undergo specific training. GALs will provide direct advocacy, as they act as a voice for the child, ensuring their wishes and needs are represented throughout the custody proceedings. The GAL remains involved in the case from start to finish, providing continuous monitoring and advocacy for the child. Also, GALs have the authority to investigate all aspects of the case, including interviewing parents, teachers, and other relevant parties. 

There are some weaknesses in having a GAL involved in your custody matter, such as potential bias, limited expertise, and cost. Despite their training, GALs may inadvertently develop biases or personal opinions that could influence their recommendations. While GALS receive training, they may lack the specialized expertise of mental health professionals in assessing complex family dynamics or psychological factors. Appointing a GAL can add significant costs to the custody case, which may be a burden for some families. 

A custody evaluation is a comprehensive assessment conducted by a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist or social worker. The evaluator interviews all parties involved, observes parent-child interactions, and employs various assessment tools to make recommendations regarding custody arrangements. Custody evaluators have specialized training and expertise in assessing family dynamics, child development, and psychological factors relevant to custody decisions. Evaluators aim to provide an impartial and objective analysis based on their professional assessments, rather than advocating for one party. Custody evaluations typically involve extensive data gathering, including interviews, observations, and psychological testing, providing a comprehensive understanding of the family’s needs.

Along with GALs, there are cons to having custody evaluations. Evaluators are typically involved for a defined period, providing a snapshot assessment rather than ongoing monitoring of the situation. While evaluators strive for objectivity, their personal biases or theoretical orientations may influence their assessments and recommendations. Custody evaluations can be expensive and time-consuming, potentially prolonging the custody proceedings. 

Ultimately, the decision to request a guardian ad litem or a custody evaluation depends on the specific circumstances of each case and the resources available. Some cases may benefit from the advocacy of a GAL, while others may require the in-depth analysis provided by a custody evaluation. In certain situations, courts may even appoint both to ensure a comprehensive assessment of the child’s best interests. An experienced family law attorney can help advise you on your custody matter and the influence of a GAL or custody evaluator. The attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. have ample experience with GAL and custody evaluations in child custody proceedings throughout Indiana. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C., and this is not intended as specific legal advice or solicitation of services as this is an advertisement.


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