Divorce is difficult at the best of times. It gets even more complicated when you add children into the mix. The emotional tug of war begins during the separation with each spouse determined to keep their child as close as possible.
When the arguments about custody accelerate, it can become impossible to separate your personal convictions about child-rearing from the desire to get the last word in against your ex. When neither side is willing or able to bring coherent arguments regarding custody in front of the judge, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem -- also known as an "attorney for the child" to assist.
What is a guardian ad litem?
This person is usually an attorney or social worker who does not represent either parent, but the child. They have a legal relationship with the child. Their main duty is to ensure that the physical and mental welfare of the child is not lost in the messy and emotionally distraught atmosphere of divorce proceedings. The cost of the guardian ad litem (GAL) or "attorney for the child" (AFC) is shared between both spouses.
What does a GAL do?
A GAL or AFC may choose to engage with the child's extended family, visit their home or school, or pursue whether legal obligations to the child are being met. They might speak to new romantic partners, child care workers, teachers, and members of the extended family in a legal capacity. The GAL/AFC could then deliver a report to the court that may play a role in helping determine further legal needs of the child.
How does this help?
The guardian's job is to focus on ensuring that there is a safe and supportive environment for your child and that their rights are protected. Again, because the GAL's relationship to your child is a legal one, it is their responsibility to ensure that the child's shelter, education and medical care are taken care of. This may become an important role for a close friend or relative to take on, depending on your family's situation.