Top 3 Tips for Working with an Appointed Litem Guardian in a Child Custody Case | Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP

WHAT IS A LITEM GUARDIAN?

It’s no secret that inherent in any legal process there are a huge number of Latin terms and expressions. For those untrained in law, as well as for those with no prior experience of the legal system, these foreign expressions, combined with the unfamiliarity of a legal process, can rightly make an experience already disturbing even more nervous. wrenching.

One such Latin term commonly used in child custody proceedings is Guardian ad litem. Concretely, if child care is involved in a lawsuit in Ohio, whether it is a divorce or a private custody case, it is quite possible that a guardian ad litem (or GAL) will be appointed during the affair. But what is a LAG? And what is the role of a GAL in a child custody case?

Simply put, a GAL is a person – often a lawyer – who is appointed by the court in a legal proceeding that has a child custody aspect. Ultimately, in Ohio, the role of the LAG is to investigate the circumstances surrounding the child custody portion of the lawsuit and make a recommendation to the court regarding the best interests of the minor child or children involved in the case. . To this end, a LAG does not directly defend or represent any of the parents involved in the lawsuit. Instead, the GAL upholds the best interests of the child and, therefore, the legal standard that a court must meet to craft and issue a custody order in Ohio.

WHEN IS A GAL NEEDED?

In particular, a GAL can be appointed at the request of a party to the proceedings, or a GAL can be appointed at the choice of the court, and therefore, in the absence of such a request. Typically, a LAG is most often named in a disputed child custody case – or in other words, a case where the parties disagree on certain aspects of a temporary and/or final custody arrangement for their minor child or children.

As part of the trial, the LAG is responsible for conducting an investigation. During their investigation, the LAG often performs a number of tasks, including, but not limited to:

  • Interview the parties
  • Interview the child or children
  • Talking with collateral sources, including other family members or identified people
  • Obtain and review all relevant records or documents relating to the children or the parties, including those provided by the parties and/or any collateral sources, such as schools, medical professionals, etc.

TIPS FOR WORKING WITH A GAL

Ultimately, at the end of the investigation, the LAG issues a LAG report, which includes a written recommendation to the court as to the LAG’s opinion on the custody arrangement that would be in the best interests of the minor child or children. While a LAG’s recommendation to the court is not binding on the final award of custody, the same is often instructive and, at a minimum, is scrutinized by the court as part of its analysis. the best interests of the child or children.

Although GALs are often named and are an important part of a custody case, it is (understandably) not always clear to the parties what their relationship or involvement with the GAL should look like, or how they can work better with the LAG. While there is of course no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to working with a LAG – especially as each case is unique and distinct – the following three tips for parties are generally universally applicable in this context.

TIP #1: A PARTY SHOULD ALWAYS BE RESPONSIVE AND COOPERATIVE WITH A GAL.

Indeed, a unique feature of a LAG compared to other people in court involved in a child custody action, is that the LAG is, generally, authorized to speak directly with all parties to the dispute. case, including without the presence of a lawyer. . Thus, although a lawyer for one party cannot directly contact the other party if represented by a lawyer, the LAG is not subject to this same restriction. As a result, the parties do, in fact, often have many direct interactions with the LAG, including through phone calls, emails, in-person meetings, text messages, etc.

In these direct interactions, it is important that one party is always responsive, cooperative, polite and professional towards the LAG. The reason is simple. Literally any interaction between a party and the LAG is, in practice, part of the LAG’s investigation. Therefore, it is not uncommon for these interactions to form the basis, at least in part, for the LAG’s ultimate written recommendation on the matter. While a party’s positive interactions with the LAG, of course, do not inherently lead to the desired custody outcome, it is evident that a party’s poor interactions (or lack of interactions) with the GAL can be particularly useless when it comes to achieving a desired custody outcome. Thus, maintaining a good relationship with the LAG is something that every party to a custody case should strive for.

TIP #2: PROVIDE USEFUL AND TANGIBLE MATERIALS TO THE LAG.

It is generally useful to compile and provide relevant tangible documents to the LAG at beginning of its investigation, and therefore, as soon as possible after the appointment of the LAG. These documents may include relevant documents, such as written communications between or concerning the parties and/or the child(ren), relevant recordings, images and/or other multimedia files, as well as a list of collateral witnesses who may to have relevant information. to the LAG investigation.

Not only do these documents and witnesses generally function as essential evidence in many child custody cases, but they also tend to be the most effective way to display to the GAL any issues he or she may need. examine and resolve in relation to his or her inquiry. Therefore, it is essential to provide these documents to the LAG at the start of the trial, as this may prove instructive in guiding or informing the subsequent direction of the LAG’s investigation.

TIP #3: FIND AN APPROPRIATE BALANCE OF CONTINUOUS COMMUNICATION.

It is important for a party to strike an appropriate balance of ongoing communication with the LAG during the process. Specifically, while it is essential for a party to keep the LAG updated throughout the case as to any issues they are having that may be relevant to the child custody aspect of the trial , it is also essential that a party does not abuse its ability to contact the LAG during the case. For many parties, this is understandably a difficult balance to strike, especially when dealing with matters that may be perceived to be of a more minor nature.

To be sure, if a party encounters significant or particularly troubling challenges or difficulties with the other parent or child(ren) while the case is pending, it is important that the LAG is notified in real time. Indeed, only by notifying the LAG can he or she be able to investigate and weigh in on the particular matter as soon as possible. Additionally, depending on the circumstances, these types of situations — and how the parties handle them — may even factor into the LAG’s final custody recommendation.

However, it is probably not appropriate or necessary to alert the LAG each a minor custody dispute or difficulty that a party encounters in the course of the lawsuit. In fact, it may even have the intended opposite effect of challenging the reporting person’s behavior and intentions. Obviously, at this time, it may be extremely difficult for the parties to distinguish between the two aforementioned circumstances. Therefore, when a question arises as to whether it is necessary or appropriate to notify the LAG of a particular situation or circumstance, it is generally best for a party to first consult with their attorney before to contact the LAG.

CONCLUSION

Navigating a contested child custody case can be both an emotional and logistical challenge in itself. Add another professional in court, such as a GAL, and it can get even more complex.


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