Guardian ad litems advocate for children


In the Domestic Relations Court, parents may disagree about custody issues and their companionship schedule. This includes how decisions will be made for the child(ren)’s activities, education and medical care, and how much time the child(ren) will have with each parent.

When parents disagree, the court often appoints a guardian ad litem (GAL) in order to learn more about the family, the needs of the minor child(ren), and make recommendations for what is in the best interests of the minor child(ren).

I have been asked many times to explain the role, qualifications, and responsibilities of the GAL in domestic relations cases.

Well, in Delaware County, a GAL is an attorney who is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a minor child(ren). The attorney must meet specific requirements and qualifications before serving as a GAL. The court maintains a list of attorneys who are qualified to serve as a GAL.

One of the qualifications to be a GAL is that they must have completed the necessary legal education and training. The GAL must complete 12 hours of preservice training. After the preservice training, the GAL must complete, yearly, an additional six hours of training.

After the GAL meets all of the requirements, they can be added to the court’s GAL list. If a parent requests a GAL or the court believes a GAL would be beneficial, the court appoints a GAL from the approved list.

The duties of the GAL include conducting an investigation looking for how the children’s needs are met in both homes. Every family is different and unique so the GAL will often focus on different issues in different cases.

In most cases the GAL starts the investigation meeting with the parents individually. This allows the GAL to get to know, first hand, each parent’s perspective regarding the child(ren)’s needs and the parents’ disagreements.

Usually, the GAL will also meet with the child and observe the child in each parent’s home. This can look different in each case depending on many factors including the age of the child and the issues in the case.

A GAL may also contact other people who have important information about the child, including, family members, teachers, medical providers and other professionals.

Ultimately, the GAL submits a report to the court about what they believe is in the child’s best interests. This may include a recommendation as to custody and/or companionship time with the minor child. Many times, the recommendations and report of the GAL help the parents to come to an agreement about custody and companionship time with the minor child.

If the parents continue to disagree, the case proceeds to trial. The GAL then advocates, during trial, for what is best for the minor child. The GAL may also testify about their investigation and recommendations. The GAL is subject to questioning, under oath, by each parents’ attorney.

The court then decides, based on all admissible evidence in the case, the allocation of parental rights between the parents. This includes a custody determination and a companionship time schedule.

Before I became a judge, I maintained a law practice in downtown Delaware for over 20 years. In that time, I had the opportunity to serve as a GAL in hundreds of cases.

I enjoyed serving as a GAL as I was able to talk to parents, hear their concerns, and investigate the issues in the case. However, what I enjoyed most about being a GAL was getting to know the children.

Serving as a GAL allowed me to focus on what was best for the child. I learned that what is best for the child may not always be what is best for the parent.

In most cases, the children just wanted the parents not to fight and to get along. They wanted to spend time with both parents. And, the children did not want to feel like they had to choose one parent over the other parent.

I am thankful for being able to serve as a GAL. What I learned as a GAL has served me well as a judge. I continually try to shift the focus in cases from the disagreement between the parents to what is in the long-term best interests of the child.

No posts to display