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Guardian Ad Litem

    Sometimes, in custody cases, a Guardian Ad Litem will be appointed to represent the best interest of the child (or children) that are the subject of the dispute.  In Latin, the phrase "ad litem" means "for purposes of litigation only."  A guardian ad litem is an individual, usually an attorney, appointed by the courts to represent children for purposes of custody litigation.
     In Georgia, a Guardian Ad Litem's roles and responsibilities are set out in the Uniform Superior Court Rules.  In general, a guardian's role in the proceedings is to assist the Judge, attorneys and litigants in determining what is in a child's best interest with regard to custody, visitation, and other matters. 
    If a Guardian Ad Litem is appointed to a case, he or she will generally meet with the parents and their respective lawyers.  In addition, depending upon the age of the child, the guardian may meet alone with the child(ren).  Often, guardians visit the child's school or daycare and will interview other relevant professionals (doctors, counselors, psychologists) to assist in his or her investigation.
   If you are involved in, or contemplating, a case involving custody of children, it is wise to inquire about the potential need for a guardian in your case. 
   As a litigator, I have handled several cases involving guardians ad litem.  I am also trained as a guardian ad litem myself, so I am keenly aware of how guardians ad litem tend to conduct their investigations.  I use my experience practicing in cases where guardians are appointed combined with my own experience serving as a guardian to help clients understand the process so that the best possible result can be achieved. 
   It is important to understand from the outset that, while guardians ad litem are given much credibility in custody cases, they do not have the power to make custody decisions.  Only a judge can make a custody determination.  The guardian's role is to conduct an investigation and to provide the judge with a thorough evaluation of the situation.  Most guardians will then provide a recommendation to the parties, the attorneys and the judge.  If parties agree with the recommendation, oftentimes they can and will use the guardian's recommendation to craft a personalized parenting plan that can be submitted to a judge for approval.  If one or both parties disagrees with the guardian's assessment, the case can still be heard by a judge, who makes the final decision. 
   When meeting with a guardian ad litem as a parent in a contested custody action, it is important to know how to best present the relevant facts and history so that the guardian has a clear picture of the issues.  No guardian will ever know you, the other parent, or your child as well as  you do, so it is important to go into a meeting with him or her fully prepared to provide all information that is relevant to the matter.  Organization, preparation and candor are essential. 
   It is also important to note that a guardian ad litem is prohibited from providing legal advice to the parents (or persons seeking custody) in the case.  This is because the guardian ad litem represents the children and ONLY the children in the matter.  Any questions about how to present a case in court or how to prepare a sound legal strategy are solely for the attorney(s) representing the parents. 

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