Guardians ad litem in Virginia seem to hold great sway over family law cases. Perhaps you are concerned about a court-ordered investigation and report issued by a guardian ad litem (GAL) and you wonder, can you do anything about it?
What’s a GAL?
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a court-appointed legal representative whose client is your child. In any family law matter, each party deserves and should have legal representation. Though your child is a minor and you are the parent, you may have a conflict of interest regarding the child’s future, especially in a custody case or divorce decree.
To protect the rights of the child, the Virginia court may appoint a GAL to investigate your household and you. The GAL will also investigate your spouse’s (or ex-spouse’s) household and your spouse. In Virginia, as detailed by the Virginia Courts themselves, the GAL must:
- Be an active member in good standing of the Virginia State Bar
- Complete the seven-hour required course, “Representation of Children as a Guardian Ad Litem,” offered by Virginia Continuing Legal Education (CLE)
- Demonstrate familiarity with the court system and a general background in juvenile law by either participating as an attorney, or as a third-year law student under Part 6, § IV, Para. 15, of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, in four cases in the juvenile and domestic relations district court involving children, excluding traffic cases; or by associating with one qualified guardian ad litem in two cases in the juvenile court involving children, excluding traffic cases
- Demonstrate proficiency in the representation of children by submitting a Nomination Certificate signed by one juvenile court judge before whom you have appeared, or by the qualified guardian ad litem whom you have assisted in 2 cases in the juvenile court.
- Send a letter to the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia requesting qualification, and including the judicial districts in which you would like to accept appointments as a guardian ad litem
We detailed all that so you could see the position is not gained by answering an ad in The Virginian-Pilot. You need some serious chops to become a GAL, which means any report the court orders you to prepare is done professionally and diligently.
The GAL Report
A court-ordered investigation into both parents is designed to help the judge settle disagreements as to custody, child support, parenting time visits, and equitable property settlement. The report usually details (and the GAL makes recommendations about):
- With whom the child or children should live
- How much visitation time the non-custodial parent should have
- Whether that parent should have supervised or unsupervised time with the child or children
- Which parent gets to make legal decisions about the kids
- If either parent should have to take parenting classes or meet other requirements in order to spend time with the kids
The report usually includes a summary of what the GAL did, saw, recommended, and why the recommendations were as they appeared in the report.
While the GAL report appears to be intimidating, the GAL is just another witness, not the leading authority or sole expert on your kids. The report can be challenged, but only through your family law attorney. Never attempt to confront the GAL or handle a challenge on your own.
The Challenge Within the Challenge
The challenge in challenging the GAL report is that, as a parent, you feel like you are fighting on a primal level to protect your family. Your first instinct will always, always, always be wrong. That is why you hired a family law attorney, and you have to trust your attorney to challenge the report based on facts, not emotion.
The effective challenge will be based on dissecting the report to reduce the GAL’s impact on your case. As such, your attorney will likely go through the report with you to itemize facts in dispute, facts the GAL left out, witnesses the GAL interviewed, and witnesses interviewed but not included in the final report.
Be prepared to defend your entire existence in challenging the report, which could include questions about your mental health, financial fitness, and parental practices. Again, though, let that defense come through your attorney, not from your primal parent brain.
Your attorney may not counter the GAL report item by item. An array of character witnesses, financial documents, videos and photographs of your home, and other experts’ testimony may be entered in support of your case. The GAL report can recede in significance when overwhelmed by other evidence.
At The Firm For Men we never advise anyone to take on the legal system without adequate counsel. Please contact us today or telephone our Virginia Beach office at (757) 383-9184 to let us help you in your efforts with child custody, child support, separation, or divorce. We are knowledgeable custody attorneys dealing with Virginia family law matters every day. Put our experience to work for you.