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Understanding the Role of a Guardian ad Litem in Indiana Custody Cases

A guardian ad litem, often referred to as a GAL, may be appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests in a custody dispute.  A guardian ad litem is generally an attorney but may be a volunteer or employee of a county program. The court may appoint a GAL on its own, or upon motion of either party. If you are involved in a custody dispute wherein a GAL may be appointed, then understanding the role of the Guardian ad litem is important, as his or her recommendations will be considered by the court when making a custody determination. This blog discusses a guardian ad litem’s role in Indiana custody cases and how you can help the GAL make the custody suggestions that are best for your child. 

A guardian ad litem is an attorney, volunteer, or employee of a county program who has completed training in the identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect and early childhood and adolescent development (I.C. 31-9-2-50). The GAL will investigate and prepare a report concerning the child’s custody arrangements (I.C. 31-17-2-12). The report will be submitted to the court and the GAL may testify about the findings in the report. A guardian ad litem may also call witnesses (I.C. 31-17-6-6) and, if ordered by the court, refer the child to professionals for diagnosis (I.C. 31-17-2-12(b)). A GAL may also be asked by the court to continue supervision after a custody order has been entered to ensure that the order is being followed by both parents (I.C. 31-17-6-7). The court may order one or both parties to pay the guardian ad litem’s fee (I.C. 31-17-6-9). 

In preparing their report for the court, a GAL may interview the child’s siblings, grandparents, and any other family member who plays a significant role in the child’s life. The guardian ad litem will generally also talk to the child’s teachers, guidance counselors, and healthcare providers, and collect any documentary evidence of the child’s adjustment and health, such as medical records, report cards, and disciplinary information from the child’s school. It is also likely that the GAL will visit both your home and the other parent’s home to investigate the living conditions at each home (CustodyXChange). While a guardian ad litem will not necessarily interview every party in a child’s life, they will certainly talk to the child, get to know the child, and determine what, if any, services the child may need and what custody arrangements they prefer. 

Parties should cooperate fully with a guardian ad litem appointed to their custody case. This means allowing the GAL to speak with your child, evaluate the living conditions in your home, and interview you concerning your relationship with your child and the issues involved in your custody. Failing to cooperate with the guardian ad litem can make it appear to the judge as if you are hiding something and your chances of getting the result you want may then be negatively affected. When working with a GAL, remember, they are not on anyone’s “side”. They do not work for the department of child services and are not looking for a reason to remove the child from either home. The guardian ad litem’s job is simply to get a clear picture of the child’s environment (The ethics of guardians ad litem in Family Law – Hofstra University) and determine what custody arrangement might be best, then make a recommendation to the court. 

The GALS report will be provided to the court and to both parties (I.C. 31-17-2-12) before the final custody hearing. The parties may question the GAL at hearing regarding specific findings supporting their custody recommendation. Parties will also be given the opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses called by the guardian ad litem. These witnesses will generally be those who provided information to the GAL to assist in completing their report and recommendations. Regardless of whether or not a GAL has been appointed in your case, custody orders are issued pursuant to Indiana’s child custody order statute (I.C. 31-17-2-8) which provides that the best interests of the child are the guiding consideration and enumerates the factors the court must take into account when determining the best interests of the child. Findings by the GAL which are irrelevant to the child’s best interest should not be considered by the court. The court may also disregard any portion of the guardian ad litem’s report, or the entire report, in its sole discretion. 

If you are involved in a custody dispute, the attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. can help fight for you and protect your rights. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.

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