Virginia’s legal system provides Guardians Ad Litem (GALs) in all cases involving children (and incapacitated adults). Most often, the GAL represents the child. Ideally, the GAL works as a professional by appointment of judges in Juvenile & Domestic Relations Courts, District Courts, and Circuit Courts. What happens when that ideal falls short?
Working with a GAL
A GAL is appointed by a judge to expedite the work of the court in matters pertaining to children:
- Child support
- Child custody
- Child visitation scheduling
- Protective orders affecting the child
Both parents in a family law case must work with the GAL. This is not necessarily an easy thing. Few parents have experience dealing with someone who, by design, is not interested in the parents’ best interests.
Consider just about any encounter you have in your professional and private life with people serving you: waiters, car dealers, accountants, barbers — they defer to your wishes.
A GAL consciously does not do this. The GAL serves the needs of your child, not you. That often leads to friction. Some possible areas of disagreement could include:
- Your perception that the GAL is biased against you because you are a man and the GAL thinks the children’s mother is better suited to have custody
- Intimations from the GAL that your professional position (military rank, occupation, earnings capacity, or educational attainment) is not sufficient for the needs of your child
- Your sense that the GAL judges you as unworthy for socioeconomic, racial, religious, ethnic, or sexual reasons
- A developing relationship or apparent familiarity between the GAL and your children’s mother
What Qualifies a GAL?
GALs do not drop divinely from the sky. They are selected by judges from lists maintained by the Office of the Executive Secretary, Supreme Court of Virginia. The Supreme Court of Virginia determines the qualifications of attorneys designated as guardians ad litem (GALs).
Just as with everyone else involved in your child’s family law case, GALs are all too human. Humans have biases, life experiences, and encounters that shape their attitudes towards others. You may feel the GAL appointed by the court has a bias against you for whatever reason. What can you do?
It’s Never Too Late
Virginia’s judicial system provides nearly limitless remedies to its citizens when legal issues arise. The GAL may submit a report to the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court judge that you and your attorney strongly disagree with.
You are never too late to attempt to counter the effects of a GAL on your children’s law issue. The GAL’s report may compel a judge to rule against you (or, more properly, rule in the children’s best interests) regarding an immediate issue. Yet you and your attorney can appeal, and appeal, and appeal. You have many paths to overturn the apparent bias and faults of a GAL.
What are Your Remedies?
Here are five steps you can take, from basic to bulldozing, if you feel your GAL should be removed from your family law case due to bias or unprofessional behavior:
- Keep scrupulous records of every encounter between your children and the GAL, the GAL and yourself, and the GAL and your family law attorney
- Learn all you can about the expectations for performance by the GAL, starting with the Standards of Performance (you will be dismayed, no doubt, to learn just how small a role the parents play in the performance of a GAL’s duties)
- Speak with your family law attorney about the issues you perceive, but be willing to hear that your perception does not match reality — you may not like what the GAL is doing, but it is neither biased nor unethical
- Contact the Virginia State Bar to file a misconduct inquiry about the attorney appointed as your child’s GAL
- Have your family law attorney file a motion with the judge to remove the GAL from your case, showing cause — by your scrupulously maintained records — that demonstrate unprofessional, unethical, or biased behavior by the GAL
What Are the Chances of Having a GAL Removed?
Regrettably (and we take no joy in writing this), chances are slim to non-existent that a judge will remove a GAL. Your perceptions of the job done by the GAL may not match what the GAL actually accomplishes:
- A home visit that you clocked as 11 minutes may seem insufficient for anyone to form an accurate opinion about the state of the child’s home; the GAL may have visited 100 homes over the years and can complete a quick mental checklist very fast
- The GAL seemed to hardly ever talk to your child; unknown to you, the GAL met 23 times with your lad or lass
- You and the GAL never seemed to have “hit it off,” and the GAL seemed completely indifferent to your charms, so obviously the GAL is biased against you; the GAL came across to the children’s mother exactly the same way
Reach Out to the Custody Attorneys for Dads!
The Firm For Men can zealously defend a Virginia man’s rights, including his right to protect, nurture, and see his own children. Contact us today or telephone us at (757) 383-9184. We can help you deal with grating GALs, mean mothers, and wearisome wives.