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Child Custody Cases and the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program

In Florida, children rarely testify in court. Even when the children are old enough to provide useful testimony, judges always avoid having minors testify in family law cases unless there is no other alternative. Divorce and custody battles are stressful enough for children and teenagers, and being questioned in a courtroom could cause them unnecessary additional stress. Therefore, courts often appoint a guardian ad litem to speak on behalf of the child.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is a person appointed to provide information about the child and his or her situation in order to help the judge make a decision about the child’s best interest. The guardian ad litem does not have custody of the child even temporarily; the child’s legal guardians remain the biological, adoptive, or foster parents. The guardian ad litem’s legal responsibility to the child is only to represent the child’s best interests before the judge.

In Florida, guardians ad litem are volunteers, and each guardian ad litem is assigned to only one child or family at a time. They come from all different professional and educational backgrounds. Regardless of previous work experience, they must take a training course to become qualified to work as guardians ad litem. Many of them have worked with children in their professional lives and have a keen sense of what constitutes a child’s best interest; many guardians ad litem are social workers, teachers, and healthcare workers.

The duties of a guardian ad litem include visits and meetings with the child, often at the child’s home or school. He or she might also meet with other people in the child’s life, such as teachers, relatives, and doctors, to gain information about what is in the child’s best interest. The guardian then prepares a report about the child and submits it to the judge. Judges use reports prepared by guardians ad litem to help them make decisions in family law cases.

Can a Guardian ad Litem Help Your Child Custody Case?

The most important duty of guardians ad litem is to protect children from abuse and neglect.  Most children who are appointed a guardian ad litem to represent them are currently or have previously been in foster care. Sometimes judges also appoint guardians ad litem in child custody cases, even when the children have only ever lived with their parents, either together or separately. In divorce, it is common for parents to disagree about what is in the best interest of the children. The parents present their respective sides of the story in court, and it is one person’s word against another’s. A guardian ad litem is an unbiased source of information about the child, and his or her report can help the judge determine what is actually best for the child.

Contact Alan R. Burton About Your Divorce

Alan R. Burton is a marital and family law attorney in Boca Raton, Florida.  Contact Alan R. Burton with questions about divorce and child custody, including if you think a guardian ad litem could help you and your ex-spouse arrive at an acceptable custody agreement.