A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in the family law realm is a trained and certified professional who represents the best interests of your child(ren). The type of GAL used in family law matters is oftentimes referred to as a Title 26 GAL. Title 26 refers to the Domestic Relations Revised Code of Washington statutes. A GAL must have completed the Title 26 training and must have judicial approval to be listed on the county’s registry in order to be assigned to a case.

Oftentimes, conflict can become more intense during child custody matters, and unfortunately, the children involved can be put in the middle. The purpose of the GAL in these matters is to investigate both parties to determine the best Parenting Plan moving forward for the children based on the “best interest of the child” standard. Sometimes one parent’s wishes conflict with what is in the best interest of the children. It is important to remember that a GAL will make recommendations based on all the information received, not based on what either parents or the child wants.

How do I request a Guardian ad Litem in my case?

First, your case will need to be “open” with either a Petition for Divorce, Legal Separation, Parenting Plan, or Modification of Parenting Plan. Once you have an “open” case, then there are a few ways to request a GAL be assigned in your case. 

  • You can file a Motion to Appoint Guardian ad Litem (FL All Family 145) and file a Notice of Hearing (FL All Family 185).
  • You can file a Motion for Temporary Family Law Order (FL Divorce 223, FL Parentage 323, or FL Modify 623) and file a Notice of Hearing (FL All Family 185).

Either way you request a GAL be appointed in your case, the issue will have to go in front of the Judicial Official assigned to your case, unless the other party agrees to appoint a GAL. If the other party agrees, then both parties will sign an Order Appointing Guardian ad Litem for a Child (FL All Family 146). In any of these situations, it is your responsibility to research the available GALs on the registry and provide the court with their rates and availability. It is best practice to recommend three different GALs.

What does a Guardian ad Litem investigation look like?

Step 1: The first step in the investigation is getting the GAL up to speed on the case. The GAL will typically send both parties an “intake” form requesting basic information and details. That form will ask questions about the history of the parties and the children, including mental health information; medical information; criminal histories; and personal references. The GAL will have access to all the documents that have been filed with the court to date and will need to be served with all documents filed with the court thereafter appointment.

Step 2: The next step is for the GAL to conduct interviews with the parents, the child(ren), important providers (i.e., therapists, doctors, teachers), and other parties who may have vital information applicable to the case. 

Step 3: Once the GAL compiles all the information they have received, they will issue a written report. The report will summarize the information received and from whom it was received. The report will also include recommendations for a parenting schedule, or any other recommendations that would be in the best interest of the children, which is based on the GAL’s training and statutory standards.

Step 4: Once the report is issued, it is common to have a court hearing where the Commissioner or Judge will review the report and order any necessary changes based on the information presented.

What are the responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem?

During the investigation, the GAL is required to be a neutral third party and must show fairness in dealings with all parties while upholding the ethical principles they are bound to.

 A GAL is an “officer of the court” and must:

1. Maintain independence
2. Conduct themself professionally
3. Avoid conflicts of interest
4. Treat parties with respect
5. Become informed about the case
6. Timely inform the court of relevant information
7. Limit duties to those ordered by the court
8. Inform individuals about their role in the case
9. Maintain the parties’ privacy
10. Perform duties in a timely manner
11. Maintain documentation, and
12. Keep records of time and expenses

These requirements set forth ethical conduct standards—violations of which may subject the GAL to discipline. The duties and responsibilities of GALs are provided by court orders, court rules, and statutes.

When should I request a Guardian ad Litem?

The court will typically want a GAL investigation when there is high conflict or serious allegations on one or both sides. 

Requesting a GAL be appointed is a good idea in some of, but not limited to, the following situations:

  • The other parent is lying and hiding information related to the child.
  • The other parent is attempting to alienate you from the child.
  • The other parent is neglectful or emotionally abusive toward the child, but there is not sufficient evidence to show to the court.
  • The child expresses concerning things to you that the other parent does, but you have little to no evidence other than the child’s report.
  • The other parent shows signs of mental illness or other issues that have detrimentally affected the child’s well-being.
  • The child has had a recent and extreme change in behavior, but the parents do not communicate well enough to figure out the root cause.

Hire an experienced child custody attorney in Vancouver, WA!

An important note is that GALs are not cheap. They typically charge a retainer fee to begin work on a case and bill by the hour. Thus, it is imperative to do your own research regarding availability, fees, and experience.

If you want to request a Guardian ad Litem in your child custody case but need help with the process, please contact us at Navigate Law Group so we can help guide you.

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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.