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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

How do guardian ad litems affect custody decisions?

When parents divorce or separate, it’s necessary to make custody and visitation arrangements for the children. Although parents are allowed to make such determinations outside of the courtroom – provided the arrangement is in the best interests of the children – some may find amicable negotiations impossible or extremely challenging without guidance from a lawyer or the courts, oftentimes meaning a judge is needed to make the final decision regarding custody.

Under Georgia law, judges take a number of things into consideration, including communication between both parents, the home the children currently live in and even the preferences of the children in certain cases. But perhaps the one factor taken most into consideration are the recommendations made by the guardian ad litem. While their recommendations are not 100 percent binding, they can play a major role in custody determinations.

What is a guardian ad litem?

As we explain in an article of ours, guardian ad litems, or GALs for short, are individuals appointed in custody cases to assist the court with custody determinations. The role of the GAL is to investigate the children’s situation to determine what would be in their best interests in terms of a custody and visitation arrangement.

Because GALs are required by law to only do what’s in the children’s best interests, Georgia judges trust the recommendations they give, oftentimes placing a great deal of weight on the recommendations over other recommendations made by parents or the children.

Can a guardian ad litem recommend sole custody?

Georgia law recognizes two custodial arrangements for children: sole custody and joint custody. Sole custody determinations give only one parent the ability to make decisions concerning the children as opposed to joint custody, which gives both parents the legal right to make decisions regarding the children.

While the push in a lot of cases is to share custody due to the fact that it is oftentimes better for children both emotionally and psychologically, the courts as well as GALs do recognize instances in which shared parenting may not be the best option. In cases involving domestic violence, abuse or neglect, shared parenting is unlikely to be in the best interests of the children. As such, a GAL may recommend sole custody so as to ensure the children are out of harm’s way.

Disputing the GAL’s recommendations

Even though a GAL is acting in a child’s best interests, it’s possible for either side to disagree with the recommendations made. Because the courts place such a great deal of importance on a GAL’s recommendations, you need strong legal representation to investigate the matter and advocate on your behalf.

Whether you decide to argue it out in the courtroom or settle in negotiations, having a lawyer present who has your best interests in mind can oftentimes ensure an outcome that is more favorable for everyone involved.