The Guardian ad Litem
What you need to know about the Guardian ad Litem
In South Carolina, a Guardian ad Litem is often times appointed by the Family Court in cases where child custody or child visitation is contested.
The case could be a divorce case where both parents disagree over who should have custody of the their child, or the parents disagree on the frequency or type of visitation one parent should be afforded. The case could also be grandparent or other third party who is trying to obtain custody of a child.
A Guardian ad Litem may also be appointed in abuse and neglect cases involving the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
This blog post is going to deal with the Guardian ad Litem’s role in private cases, not in abuse and neglect cases brought by DSS.
What does the Guardian ad Litem do?
The Guardian ad Litem’s job is to represent the best interests of the minor child. The Guardian will investigate the case by interviewing the parties, caregivers, school officials, and who ever else the Guardian deems as having information pertinent to the case. The Guardian will often times observe the child with each parent or party to the case and will often times do a home visit at each party’s home. The Guardian ad Litem will also consider the wishes of the child, if appropriate.
The Guardian will attend all hearings in the case that deal with the child or children and will complete a report that is provided to the Court at the Final Hearing.
What does the Guardian ad Litem not do?
The Guardian ad Litem will not make a specific recommendation as to which party should have custody in his/her report or while testifying at the Final Hearing, unless specifically asked by the Court to do so.
The Guardian ad Litem will not provide the arties with legal advice; that is the job of the lawyers.
The Guardian will not act a mediator of the case either.
Who will serve as the Guardian ad Litem in my case?
The Guardian ad Litem is appointed by a Family Court Judge by way of a Court Order. Often times the lawyers involved in the case will agree on who should serve as the Guardian ad Litem in the case, other times the lawyers cannot agree and the Judge will make the decision on who is going to serve as the Guardian ad Litem.
There are also lawyer Guardian ad Litems and non-lawyer Guardian ad Litems. Both have their advantages and their disadvantages. The law requires specific training for Guardian ad Litems, particularly in the case of non-lawyer Guardian ad Litems.
Who pays for the Guardian ad Litem?
Typically, the parties will be ordered to split the cost of the Guardian ad Litem. In some cases the Court will mandate that one party pay a larger share of the Guardian’s fee. The Court may reallocate the costs at the Final Hearing.
What should I do when a Guardian ad Litem is appointed in my case?
When the Guardian ad Litem is first appointed, your attorney may advise you to contact the Guardian or may advise you to wait for the Guardian to contact you. In either case, maintain contact with the Guardian. Many Guardians have extensive questionnaires and packets for you to complete; make sure to complete these in a timely fashion. If you have any questions concerning how you should answer the Guardian’s questions, you need to speak with your lawyer.
The Guardian may also make recommendations for counseling or therapy for the child that is involved in the case. This is because divorce, custody, and visitation cases are hard on children. Take the Guardian’s recommendations to heart, they will help your child and may help your case. Again, if you have any questions about anything the Guardian ad Litem has recommended, consult with your family court or divorce attorney.
Always remember that the Guardian ad Litem is not there to take sides, she is there for the child. She may recommend things you don’t agree with. She may very well recommend things the opposing side doesn’t agree with. Always treat the Guardian with respect and if you have concerns or questions about what he or she is doing, always direct those to your divorce or custody lawyer.Divorce and Family Law