The judge assigned her. The state pays her. Your child custody issues hinges on her word. Face it: you have a lot at stake when a guardian ad litem (GAL) drops by for a home visit. She (or he — the Supreme Court of Virginia keeps a list of qualified GALs of both genders) is not your attorney; she is your child’s attorney, and her word carries a lot of influence in court. Here is how to roll out the red carpet.
Guardians ad litem are appointed by judges in Juvenile & Domestic Relations Courts, District Courts, and Circuit Courts in matters relating to children or incapacitated adults. The GAL looks after your children’s best interests, not yours. The GAL can:
- Come into your home whether you want her to or not
- Interview your circle of friends, family, and business acquaintances
- Talk to your child’s teachers, school counselors, and doctors
- Talk to your child without you being present
- Influence the court (the judge) in the legal decision
The GAL is not your friend.
Be Prepared for a GAL to Snoop
One major service the GAL provides the court is a home visit. This is the court’s way of snooping around your personal life. GALs who have been through the process a few times are very keen-eyed. They can assess a lot about you in a very short time, because they know what to look for.
You will probably deal with a GAL once or twice in your life; the GAL will deal with fathers like you dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times. Be prepared. Expect questions that are not exactly friendly (they are not intended to provoke you, either; many GALs report both the mother and father felt bias against them).
The GAL is visiting your home for perhaps several reasons:
- A claim has been leveled against you that you have an unsafe household
- Your children’s mother wants sole custody of the children and has accused you of being an unfit parent
- A protective order exists against you and the court is considering a change in child custody
Do not pretend innocence if you are already embroiled in a legal challenge. Demonstrate to the GAL your sincerity, your determination to improve whatever situation looms.
Answer all the GAL’s questions honestly but briefly (avoid diarrhea of the mouth). Do not take personal offense at the level of snooping the GAL may show; the visit, long as it may seem, will probably take less than half an hour.
Offer the GAL a non-alcoholic beverage and snack if you like, but also do not be offended if she declines. She may poke around your kitchen to get a sense of how you address your children’s needs. Keep a clean kitchen, and remove anything that may signal questionable parenting:
- Tobacco products
- Evidence of too much take-out food
- Inappropriate refrigerator displays (risque photos, lewd comics, adult-themed magnets)
- Sugary cereals, or an abundance of empty-calorie snacks
Add things that show your genuine efforts to be a good parent, like fresh fruit, recently purchased milk, homemade bread or muffins, or your children’s favorite lunchtime dish. Display recent family photos.
Clean and Organize Your Home
Prepare for the GAL by deep cleaning your home. Remove any safety hazards. Young kids? Spend the money on outlet safety caps, cabinet locks, doorknob covers, foam corner bumpers, and everything else a conscientious parent — that’s you — uses to prevent childhood injuries.
Tidy up, yes, but do more:
- Dust and vacuum
- Shampoo carpets
- Wash windows
- Sweep the porch
Every moment you spend improving the appearance of your home is an added investment in securing a future with your kids.
Kite-Eating Trees, Anyone?
The same cleanup routine extends to your property. Drive up to your home with fresh eyes, the way the GAL will see it:
- Are kids’ toys strewn across the yard?
- Does your home look welcoming, warm, and filled with love?
- Are safety hazards everywhere, from cars on cinder blocks to exposed chemicals?
- Is the family dog treated well, or relegated to a ramshackle doghouse and heavy chain?
- Is the grass mowed? Hedges clipped? Leaves raked? Dead tree branches sawn off?
You do not have to be a page out of House Beautiful magazine, but you should also not be That House in the neighborhood — the one everyone else is afraid to approach.
The Peanut Gallery
The GAL will almost certainly continue her questioning of your kids that she probably began at their school. Let your children know the GAL is their ally and representative in court.
Encourage your children to be honest when answering her questions. Avoid putting any pressure on them to “perform,” or give the “right” answer. Once the GAL departs, do not grill your children after the visit.
The Firm For Men can help you prepare for any family law issue: separation, divorce, child custody, spousal support, and much more. Contact our office today or telephone us at (757) 383-9184. We don’t do windows, but we can assist you in getting your home ready for a visit from a guardian ad litem.