Custody litigation can be complicated and contentious. Although ideally you and your co-parent will come to your own agreement on custody, the reality is that in some situations that is simply not possible.
A court may appoint a guardian ad litem (“GAL”) in certain circumstances. While you and your co-parent may have your own custody attorneys advocating on your behalf, a GAL is an attorney whose purpose is to represent the best interests of your child.
The GAL must be licensed to practice law in Virginia and meet other specific requirements mandated by the Supreme Court of Virginia.
When a GAL is required
A court is legally required to appoint a GAL in custody cases involving allegations of abuse or neglect, a petition to terminate parental rights or cases involving a parent requesting termination of their own rights.
Custody cases involving an entrustment agreement also require the appointment of a GAL. An entrustment agreement is an agreement between both parents that they will surrender the child for adoption.
When a GAL is not required, but may still be appointed
Even if none of these circumstances apply to your custody case, the court may still choose to appoint a GAL. Virginia law states that the appointment of a GAL is subject to the discretion of the court.
Although this standard sounds rather vague, in practice, a GAL is commonly appointed when there are complex issues involved and it is unlikely that the custody case will be resolved without a trial.
What does a GAL do?
While you are preparing for your custody trial, a GAL may interview your child on their own and interview both you and your co-parent separately. There may be several different interviews, so the GAL can gain a full understanding of the situation.
Once the GAL’s interviews are complete, they will submit a written recommendation to the court prior to trial. The recommendation will state what custody arrangement they believe is in your child’s best interests, and why.
In most cases, a custody judge will make an order based on the GAL’s recommendation. Therefore, the recommendation may bring you and your co-parent closer to an agreement. However, you always have the right to continue to trial if you cannot reach an agreement.