Some high conflict divorce or custody battles require more assistance than your attorney can provide. In these custody battles, guardians ad litem, or GAL, can help determine whether a child’s legal and physical custody should be shared or given to a specific parent. GAL means “guardian of the suit” in Latin and in some jurisdictions outside Virginia, a similar role is known as “child’s best interest attorney.”
The following are 5 important facts about GALs in Virginia:
- The court ultimately decides to appoint a GAL – The decision to appoint a GAL is made by the judge. Even though you can request a GAL, a judge has to order the appointment.
- GALs are more likely to be appointed under special circumstances – Judges are more likely to appoint a GAL when there are allegations of abuse and neglect or if there is a question of potentially terminating one parent’s rights. However, a judge may appoint a GAL under other circumstances as well. Typically, cases involving legal aid on both sides are less likely to result in a GAL appointment, unless the court determines the child’s best interests are not being adequately represented by either parent.
- GALs are not free – In the state of Virginia, the court will order one or both parents to pay for a GAL in both divorce and custody cases. Under limited circumstances, such as indigency, a court may agree to pay for a GAL, but in most cases either one person handles the cost or both parties split the guardian’s fees. As of 2019, a GAL’s hourly fee is $75 for in-court time and $55 for out-of-court time. If the total exceeds $500, then the GAL must submit an itemized statement of the charges, but aside from court approval, there is no statutory limit or cap on the total.
- There are constitutional limitations to a GAL’s authority – A court can give a GAL authority over certain provisions within a divorce or custody order. For example, the Court can order for child therapy to continue at the GAL’s discretion, or for certain decisions to be subject to the GAL’s approval or recommendations. Some Virginia courts have even given the GAL authority to dictate visitation arrangements. While potentially convenient for the court and parties involved, such provisions may be unconstitutional. If you have a Virginia court order which delegates too much authority to a GAL, you should seek the advice of an experienced Virginia family law attorney to help you obtain a modification of the order.
- A GAL is not a substitute for legal counsel and can help or hurt your case – While either parent can ask the court to appoint a GAL, it is not a substitute for legal counsel. GALs report information and make recommendations directly to the court and unlike a personal family law attorney, they have no duty of confidentiality to either party. Furthermore, a GAL can access a minor’s confidential information, such as medical or criminal records which can detrimentally affect your custody case.
Finally, it is important to remember GALs are human beings with their own opinions, feelings, ideas, and experiences. Thus, the appointment of a GAL can unpredictably alter or affect a divorce or custody case to the benefit or detriment of one party or another, depending on the individual subjective assessments of the GAL herself.
Facing a Child Custody Dispute in Virginia? Contact Our Fairfax Family Law Attorneys Today
Are you involved in or anticipating a high conflict divorce or custody battle and considering asking the court to appoint a GAL? The experienced Fairfax family law attorneys at Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC can help you decide the correct course of action for you and your family’s benefit.
Are you interested in speaking to a member of our firm? Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation. Call (703) 454-5147.