What is the difference between a Guardian Ad Litem (“G-A-L”) and an Attorney For the Minor Children?

In cases involving the custody of minor children there are times when either one of the parties or a judge will suggest that the children need someone to represent their interests.  Sometimes, parents fail to recognize their own inherent conflict of interest with their children.  Frequently, this conflict of interest can result in disaster for the children.

I do not mean disaster necessarily in terms of the child being forced to visit, or live with, “the wrong parent,” that is usually something that can be re-addressed and re-decided within reason until the children reach the age of majority.  By disaster I refer to the long-lasting emotional and financial damage that a protracted custody battle can create.

So, enter the neutral third party.  A Guardian ad litem (“at law”), or an Attorney for the Minor Children.

The first question is: what’s the difference?

An attorney for the minor children is an attorney who has the job of representing the children’s desires to the court.  Just like any other party’s attorney, the attorney for the minor child keeps his or her own beliefs out of the picture and merely reports (and id necessary, advocates for) a child’s preferences.

A G-A-L, on the other hand, is not always an attorney.  These can be therapists, counselors, and social workers (or, also attorneys) who are trained in identifying and advocating for the best interests of minor children, regardless of what a child, or a parent, claims to want.  A G-A-L will take a child’s preferences into consideration, but only as one component of a larger picture.  A G-A-L must take into consideration all of the factors that are in the child’s best interests; even if it is different than a child’s wishes.

So, not just that fact that all of her friends attend the same school she does; but whether the Father’s new house is in a more appropriate school district.

Not only whether siblings get along well with each other; but also the relative psychological damage of separating them at this point in their lives.

Not just whether Dad is the more fun parent; but whether Mom has been the one consistently helping with homework and enforcing chores.

The second question is:  if things have gotten so bad that we are hiring extra professionals to tell us what our kids want and need; how can we still love our divorce?

So far in the divorce process, you and your spouse may have hired lawyers who do not see the big picture, do not have a way of encouraging the two of you to complete the process, and have only helped increase the emotional and financial costs of the divorce.  Now we have a new set of eyes (or maybe two new sets), and it is a chance to re-boot the entire divorce.

Consider allowing your children’s attorney the right to tell you exactly what your children want; and consider receiving the news with an open mind.  Even if it is the opposite of what you might have hoped to hear.  Your children are sending you a message and this is your opportunity to let their voices be louder than your own, or your lawyer’s voice.

Remember that a Guardian Ad Litem did not have an opinion of you or your family before being hired.  Any information you are able to receive from this person is a gift of insight into you, your children, and your family dynamic.  While it might not be what you want to know or hear right now; it might be information that can have a positive influence on the way you parent, or even co-parent long after your divorce is over.  Picture yourself at your daughter’s wedding reception, congratulating her other parent, your ex-spouse, and being genuinely happy.  Getting to that moment might have been as simple as listening to a tip from a G-A-L when your daughter was still in elementary school.

What We Love:  Divorce is an opportunity.  No matter where in the process you are, it is never too late to bring the best part of yourself.

Published by Sharon Oberst DeFala

Sharon Oberst DeFala has practiced low-impact safe divorce since 1992.

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