Appointment Of A Guardian Ad Litem In A Custody Case
The cornerstone of the court’s decisions in Pennsylvania custody cases is the best interest of the child. The court is required to make its decision using this standard in order to ensure that the child thrives when raised under the conditions imposed by the court. In some cases, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to help the court make its determination on the child’s best interest.
A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to conduct an investigation into the child’s circumstances and make reports to be submitted to the court. In Pennsylvania, a person serving as guardian ad litem is required to either be an attorney or a mental health professional. However, even when the appointed person is an attorney, he does not represent the child’s legal interests or serve as an advocate for the child in that sense. A court has to make a specific finding that a guardian ad litem is needed before making the appointment.
If there are allegations or concerns of abuse and neglect, the court is more likely to appoint a guardian. The guardian ad litem is not associated with either parent in the custody dispute and is concerned with only advocating on behalf of the child. The guardian ad litem participates in the court proceedings and can explain the proceedings to the child if it is age appropriate.
The guardian ad litem can conduct an investigation by speaking to various people in the child’s life, including school personnel, doctors, family members and neighbors. The information gathered may give the court a better picture of which parent provides a more stable environment for the child. The parents may try to influence the guardian to make a favorable recommendation for them, but the guardian’s primary function and responsibility is to represent the child. Trying to influence the guardian may end up backfiring on the parent depending on the steps the parent takes to try and affect the guardian’s recommendations.
The final decision as to what the best interest of the child is will be made by the court. However, the court considers the guardian ad litem’s recommendations as to the best interests. The recommendations may summarize the guardian ad litem’s professional opinion on the child’s emotional, mental, and physical health. The guardian may be required to testify at trial and be cross examined by either party to the custody case.
The court can make the appointment on its own motion, however, either parent may also request the judge make the appointment if the parent thinks it would help the court make its decision. Parents who are involved in the custody battle can be asked to cover the cost of the guardian ad litem. The parents’ ability to pay may also be considered where appropriate.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
If you want to seek custody of your child and want to learn more about how a court determines custody issues, you need to contact an experienced child custody attorney. Contact us at Barbara Flum Stein & Associates, serving Delaware County, Pennsylvania to schedule a consultation.