The Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Columbus Ohio and Central Ohio Courts
By: Attorney Haley Holmberg
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is either a private attorney or a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). CASA participants play a role identical to a GAL but are community members that are extensively trained for the volunteer position. The role of the Guardian Ad Litem is to represent the best interests of the child(ren), be it in a juvenile or domestic court case such as a divorce, dissolution or child custody and parenting time action. Unlike a guardian for an individual in probate court, the Guardian Ad Litem in domestic and juvenile courts does not take over the affairs of the child or make decisions on the child’s behalf, but rather reports to the court what the GAL believes will be the best form of action for the Court to take in regard to the minor child.
A GAL is either appointed after a request of one of the parties or may be appointed on the Court’s own initiative. The fees of the guardian ad litem are either paid for by the court in certain juvenile cases, or the court will assign a percentage of the GAL’s fees to each party, allocating them equally or based on the incomes of the parties’. An initial deposit is required by the GAL, and thereafter the GAL sends regular invoices to inform the parties of the additional funds necessary to continue on with the case. It is important to note that the appointment of a GAL is a Court Order, therefore non-compliance and/or lack of cooperation with the GAL could lead to being held in contempt of court.
After the deposit is paid, the GAL will hold an initial meeting with the parties to ensure that he/she has all of the case facts. Soon thereafter, you can expect the GAL to make a home visit to determine if your home is suitable for the child to reside within. One of the primary aspects of the role of a Guardian Ad Litem is to observe how you interact with your child. A GAL will also converse with the child(ren) to determine what the child’s wishes are and if he/she has any concerns with their current or future placement options. A GAL must maintain reasonable contact with their wards—the children, which in Franklin County is no less than once per month. A GAL also is responsible for reviewing court pleadings, filing necessary motions if the GAL is an attorney, requesting records regarding the child, speaking to witnesses, and gathering any additional information that may be necessary to complete his/her investigation. In the role of a Guardian Ad Litem the GAL may request mental health and other evaluations if the need arises. If an in-camera interview of a child is requested, the GAL will also be present during the interview.
Once the GAL has completed the investigation, he/she submits a Guardian ad Litem report to the Court with recommendations on what the guardian finds to be in the best interests of the minor child. This report does not control the outcome of the case, but the Court will strongly consider what the GAL recommends. It is important to remember that the GAL is a neutral party to the case and does not take the side of one party versus another. The GAL solely looks out for the child’s best interest and makes a recommendation based on that position to the Court.
Haley Holmberg at the Law Offices of William L. Geary Co., LLC has recently started taking on the role of a Guardian ad Litem in Domestic and Juvenile Court cases. Contact us today with your Guardian ad Litem needs. She is available by phone at 614-228-1968.