Few aspects of the divorce process are usually considered pleasant. It is understandably a stressful journey, and an experienced Florida divorce lawyer understands how difficult divorce can be for everyone affected by it. One of the most contentious issues in divorce that involves children is often custody, also referred to in Florida as time-sharing – especially in circumstances in which communication with the child’s other parent is significantly strained or impossible.
While difficult, contentious communication over issues like child custody can be intimidating, you do not have to face them alone. In addition to working with your lawyer to determine how to approach issues and challenges that may arise throughout the divorce process, there may also be a place for a guardian ad litem in your divorce case.
What is a Guardian ad Litem?
Florida law defines a guardian ad litem as the next friend of a child, investigator, or evaluator. It does not consider a guardian ad litem to be a child’s attorney, but instead an appointed advocate for the child who will act in the best interests of the child or children in question.
The law gives a guardian ad litem access to important personal information about the child or children involved in divorce, as well as access to similar information regarding parents and others involved in the process. Individuals acting as a guardian ad litem will explore many different aspects of your child’s life both with each parent as well as independently. This could mean working in conjunction with teachers, mental health providers, and even hospitals to gain a clear insight into a child’s life. The guardian ad litem will use those insights to make recommendations to the court regarding a fair and appropriate custody arrangement that is in the child or children’s best interest. While a court is not bound to accept these recommendations, they often will because of the impartial nature of the guardian ad litem.
How is a Guardian ad Litem Appointed?
In most cases, either party may elect to request the appointment of a guardian ad litem to help address difficult custody issues. Depending on the circumstances of your case, a judge may also decide that ordering a guardian ad litem to help the court make custody determinations will be in the best interests of the child or children involved. Usually, guardians ad litem are selected from preapproved lists, but the particular laws of the jurisdiction in which your divorce is being heard may dictate other minimum qualifications that must be met.
What are the Benefits of a Guardian ad Litem?
At first glance, a guardian ad litem may seem like another obstacle in the divorce process. He or she may seem like another individual whom you are forced to work with during an already stressful time, and that can be disheartening.
However, there are some tangible benefits to working with a guardian ad litem. For instance, if you are making a request to the court for a specific custody arrangement that you truly believe is in the best interests of your child but the other parent refuses to consent, the impartial nature of a guardian ad litem may mean that they see the same benefits of your request that you do. In the same way, a guardian ad litem may provide valuable insights to the court if the child’s other parent is being unreasonable about his or her custody expectations.
Working with a guardian ad litem may also mean that he or she makes a different recommendation that you had not considered, which may also meet your goals and needs. This can be helpful during a challenging divorce when positions become entrenched and it becomes difficult to see the other side’s perspective in making determinations that are in the child or children’s best interests.
Are There Potential Drawbacks to Working With a Guardian ad Litem?
As with most things that can be beneficial, there are potential drawbacks to working with a guardian ad litem. The most obvious potential drawback is that the guardian ad litem may make recommendations that are contrary to your wishes and requests when it comes to child custody.
Guardians ad litem can also be costly. If you and your spouse are considering working with one or one has been appointed, it is important to make sure that the order appointing that guardian ad litem specifies how his or her expenses will be handled. Will both parents split the cost or does the burden fall more heavily on one parent? Being specific about this important aspect can help avoid a great deal of tension and trouble down the line.
There is also a chance that you can have a personal conflict with the guardian ad litem, especially if you approach interactions with hostility. An experienced Florida divorce lawyer understands the role a guardian ad litem may play in your divorce and can help you anticipate potential challenges before they arise so that you are prepared to deal with them productively.
However, if you are considering a guardian ad litem or one is appointed by the court, there is probably a good reason for his or her involvement and you should not be intimidated by working cooperatively with them. If you work with your lawyer to maintain a concentrated focus on the best interests of the child or children involved, you may be able to approach your relationship with a guardian ad litem more confidently.
What are the Next Steps?
If you are facing divorce, especially a contentious divorce, then it can be difficult to determine what your next steps should be. Working with an experienced and dedicated Florida divorce lawyer who will take the time to listen to your needs and understand your goals throughout the divorce process may mean that you do not have to face the challenges of divorce alone. A family law attorney who focuses his or her practice on divorce can be an important part of helping you understand and advocate for your rights, as well as in helping you thoroughly explore the options that might be available to you.
If you have questions or concerns about how custody could impact your family during divorce, including questions about whether a guardian ad litem might be the right option for you and your family, contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation and start exploring your options today.