While going through a divorce, the divorcing dad may feel like he is running a perpetual uphill battle. One way to make his journey easier is to learn how to approach and handle the Guardian ad Litem. In many divorce actions, attorney Guardian ad Litems are appointed to assess the children’ situation and prepare a custody recommendation. Divorcing dads often hinder the recommendation process by making a few common mistakes. Below is a list of helpful do’s and don’ts when dealing with the Guardian ad Litem.
DO Contact the Guardian immediately to set up your initial appointment. It is important to take the initiative and contact the GAL in your case. Taking an active role in the custody evaluation process shows not only the GAL, but also the Court that you are fully invested in your children and case. In addition, it allows you to show that you are a responsible and concerned parent. If after several attempts you fail to make contact with the Guardian, contact your attorney immediately.
DON’T Use the Guardian as an intermediary in the custody dispute. The Guardian is not a mediator. Nor do you want him to take on such a role. His job is to make a neutral non-biased recommendation on behalf of the minor child or children. Do not confuse this role with that of the Judge. The Guardian does not need to be involved in every dispute with your spouse that has occurred since separation.
DO Pay your fees on time. Again, it is important that you show that you are a responsible and capable adult. Prompt payment demonstrates said responsibility. Moreover, it will help the Guardian work harder and more quickly on your recommendation. Late payments can reflect badly on your character and hinder the progression of your case.
DON’T Use your Guardian as a pseudo attorney or counselor. Do not use the sessions with your Guardian as a catharsis. He is not a sounding board for all of your frustrations with your spouse or the system. Consistent negativity toward the opposing party only shows an inability to work with that party. The Guardian is going to be looking for parties that can override their personal issues to work together for the best interest of the child or children.
DO Show enthusiasm for your kids and their lives. Be prepared to answer questions regarding your child or children. Know the simple everyday facts, including but not limited to: their grades in school; their teachers’ names; how they are doing in school; extracurricular activities and interests; and the names of their closest friends. Most importantly know the basics such as their age, birth date, school, medical issues and any medications they may be taking. Be able to back up your claims of involvement.
DON’T Coach your child. The worst thing that a divorcing dad can do is to alienate the affections or their child or children toward mom. Guardians will be able to see through any "coaching." They are experienced and well practiced at meeting with families going through a divorce. They will not recommend in your favor if they think that you are attempting to color the opinion of their mother.
In conclusion, dealing with a guardian does not have to be a frustrating experience. Remember the goal—to show that you are a caring, responsible, involved parent—and act in a manner that furthers that goal. Being petty, repeatedly calling your guardian to complain, and using your children as weapons against your wife will not make a positive impression on your guardian. Showing up on-time to appointments, knowing what is going on in your kids’ lives, and dealing with your spouse civilly, will demonstrate that you are a mature, reliable parent, and will help you get the custody recommendation you desire.
Erin Martin and Kellie Patterson are attorneys in the Fairview Heights, Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell
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