In cases involving child custody or divorce where parenting time is an issue, the court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Minn. Stat. §518.165, subd. 1. The court must appoint a GAL if it has reason to believe the child is the victim of domestic abuse or neglect. Minn. Stat. §518.165, subd. 2. The GAL represents the interests of the child and makes recommendations to the court in regards to custody and parenting time. Id. In other words, the GAL is a spokesperson who will advocate for the best interests of the child when the court is making decisions about the child’s future. (MN State Guardian Ad Litem Board). The GAL’s responsibility is to act only on behalf of the children and not side with one parent or the other. It should be noted that the role of a GAL in family proceedings is distinct from the role of a ‘guardian’ of a child in a guardianship type of case. A guardianship is a legal arrangement under which a guardian is appointed by a court, has to care for another person because of the person’s inability to legally act on his or her own behalf due to minority or mental or physical incapacity. (mncourts.gov). Duties of a GAL include:
- Conducting an independent investigation to determine facts relevant to the situation;
- Reviewing relevant documents;
- Observing the child in a home setting;
- Interviewing parents, caregivers, and others relevant to the case;
- Monitoring the best interests of the child throughout the judicial proceeding;
- Presenting written reports on the best interests of the child;
- Maintaining confidentiality of information related to the case; and
- Advocating for the best interests of the child by participating in the appropriate aspects of the case and advocating for appropriate community services when necessary.
[Rules of Guardian Ad Litem Procedure 905.] In a high conflict custody dispute, the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Clark v. Clark, urged the trial court to appoint a GAL to “assure that one voice will be raised in sole representation of the best interests of this minor child.” 358 N.W.2d 438 (Minn.App. 1984). Potential situations where the appointment of a GAL would be particularly helpful are cases where a child may feel torn between his parents or being coached by one or both parents. Rather than being put in a position of having to choose one parent over the other, the GAL will ensure that the best interests of the children are recommended to the court relative to custody and the parenting time schedule.
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