Standards of conduct for Virginias Guardians ad litem (GAL) exist; you can find them through Virginia’s courts. The problem is not what is written on the paper. The problem, for many Virginia men, is how the actual person, the one fulfilling the valuable role of child advocate, handles the job day to day. Personal bias, what appears to be a predetermined outcome, a judge who apparently listens only to the GAL — what is a Virginia father to do?
Respect the GAL’s Mission
A Guardian ad litem (Latin: “for the lawsuit”) is a court-appointed attorney who advocates for the child in any proceeding involving the child’s future:
- Child custody
- Parenting time and visitation schedules
- Child support
It is, for the most part, a thankless job. You, as the adult, already have an attorney representing your best interests. You are the parent to a child caught in Virginia’s legal system. You view yourself as the best protector of your own child, so naturally you may harbor some spontaneous resentment toward this “intruder.”
If, instead, you respect the mission of the GAL (an advocate for the best interests of your child), you will come across more favorably in the GAL’s inevitable report for consideration by the judge. The GAL was not appointed to be your friend. The GAL was charged by Virginia’s legal system with protecting your child.
The GAL is NOT Simply Meddling
The GAL is directed by the court by authorization of Code of Virginia § 64.2-2003 to prepare a report on the child in the midst of some often-unpleasant family law matters.
If a struggle exists between Mom and Dad, for example, on who should have primary physical custody, the GAL interviews both parents and prepares a recommendation.
You may not like the questions the GAL asks, or the report prepared. You may feel, immediately, the GAL is biased against you and in favor of your children’s mother. The questions can be extremely personal, coming across as the GAL just being a busybody.
Please believe us, no GAL wants to spend any more time on a case than necessary. In Virginia the GAL system is overworked. Each GAL has a large caseload and seeks to clear cases as quickly as possible while still serving the needs of the child.
The questions you are asked are also asked of the children’s mother. Though you may not find this amusing, many GALs feel that both parents feel the GAL is biased against them.
The Fact is, Nobody Wins Here
The GAL’s job is not to “win” a case. The GAL represents your child, making sure the “best interests of the child” as enshrined in Virginia’s Code are protected. This may mean casting an unflattering light on your behaviors, choices, and personal life. You may not like that, and you certainly will not like having possibly “dirty laundry” laid bare in court.
If you can possibly put aside the “win/lose” thinking, you can soften the sharp edges of a negative GAL report or highlight the positives of a good report.
The judge, both attorneys, the GAL and everyone else in the courthouse has been through this process many times. You? Once, if you are lucky. You are the amateur in their space, so let your attorney handle the strategy for dealing with the GAL report.
A good family law attorney will take even the most negatively cast GAL reports, seemingly condemning clients to practically never seeing their children again, and bring to the court’s attention every positive passage:
- School performance
- Father-child relationships
- Child’s physical, mental and emotional health
- Examples of quality time spent together
You are not out to “win” points or curry favor with the judge; you are helping the court get an accurate, complete picture of a well-rounded relationship.
Keep it Under Control
No matter how the GAL presents your case to a judge, or how a judge seems to defer to a GAL over other evidence, you must not lose control. A GAL gathering evidence will usually present as neutral a facade as possible, even while poking around your:
- Sex life
- Child’s closet
A common ploy from opposing parties is to make the GAL appear biased in their favor. Do not believe it. Turn to your attorney, who probably has worked with that particular GAL before. Listen to the assurance that the GAL is, in a way, equally obnoxious to both parties. Most courts see far more upset parents than they do biased GALs.
Remember that the court hears not only from the GAL, but from other experts on your child. These other strands of information can help your case:
- Medical expert testimony (from a child psychologist, medical doctor, psychiatrist, or other health care provider, as described in Virginia Code § 64.2-2003)
- School guidance counselors, therapists connected to the school, teachers and other education professionals
When you contact The Firm For Men online, or you telephone (757) 383-9184, you will have the opportunity to speak with real Virginia family law attorneys who have navigated the GAL system before. They can provide sound advice, practical solutions, and real action in their ongoing efforts to protect men’s rights.