During a pending paternity, divorce, or child custody matter, often, questions and concerns arise by one or both parties regarding the other parent, and their relationship, parenting style, dynamics, and parenting time with the child(ren).
When these concerns arise, one way to approach the situation is to ask for a neutral, third party evaluator to look at both the child(ren ) and the parents and make any observations/recommendations regarding the family and proper parenting time in the child’s best interests. There are several types of these “evaluators”, and this blog will explore specifically the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) and the custody evaluator.
A GAL is a voice for the child(ren). The GAL does not represent either parent, and cannot give legal advice to the parents. The GAL may have a specific task (for example, finding out if a parent’s house is suitable for overnights after a concerning incident) or may generally be appointed to determine which parent they believe should have custody.
The GAL generally meets with the child(ren) and the parents, and determines information from all parties to make a recommendation. A GAL may speak with the child’s teacher or counselor. The GAL may want school or medical records for the children. After speaking with all parties, any other collateral sources, and reviewing documents, the GAL will submit a report with his/her recommendations to the Court. This can be used by the Court to determine a custody matter or otherwise.
While a GAL is generally an attorney, social worker, or works in a related field, a custody evaluator is often a Ph.D. clinical psychologist. If a custody evaluation is ordered in a case, the process of a custody evaluation is a separate process from the process of a GAL. A custody evaluator will interview all parties and their families. They will often perform psychological testing to look for states and traits of different parties.
Interviews for a custody evaluation can take anywhere from a one (1) day, full day session, to several days. A custody evaluator will review their notes from the interviews, any testing performed, collateral sources, and create a report to be submitted to the Court (if ordered). A custody evaluation may be more helpful in situations where mental health of a party is at issue or where the child is experiencing developmental delays.
A GAL and custody evaluator can both be utilized in a single case, although this is fairly uncommon. The downfall of this is usually cost, as there are generally fees for both services. However, by having a neutral, third party review the case and make a recommendation, parents can put forward their case and concerns outside of the Courtroom. Also, the best interests of the child can be determined in a complicated domestic litigation.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in exploring the basics of GAL and custody evaluations in a custody matter. Knowing your opinions and what is best for your child can help make the litigation process go more smoothly. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.