Use of a Guardian Ad Litem in a Tampa Child Custody Case

The Use of a Guardian Ad Litem has become more prevalent recently in Tampa divorce and child custody cases.  Pursuant to Florida law, Courts must determine timesharing between the parents based on the “best interests of the child.”  A Guardian Ad Litem serves to act as a voice and advocate for the child or children to help the court make that determination.

Under Florida law:

A guardian ad litem when appointed shall act as next friend of the child, investigator or evaluator, not as attorney or advocate but shall act in the child’s best interest. A guardian ad litem shall have the powers, privileges, and responsibilities to the extent necessary to advance the best interest of the child, including, but not limited to, the following:

(1) The guardian ad litem may investigate the allegations of the pleadings affecting the child, and, after proper notice to interested parties to the litigation and subject to conditions set by the court, may interview the child, witnesses, or any other person having information concerning the welfare of the child.
(2) The guardian ad litem, through counsel, may petition the court for an order directed to a specified person, agency, or organization, including, but not limited to, hospitals, medical doctors, dentists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, which order directs that the guardian ad litem be allowed to inspect and copy any records and documents which relate to the minor child or to the child’s parents or other custodial persons or household members with whom the child resides. Such order shall be obtained only after notice to all parties and hearing thereon.
(3) The guardian ad litem, through counsel, may request the court to order expert examinations of the child, the child’s parents, or other interested parties in the action, by medical doctors, dentists, and other providers of health care including psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals.
(4) The guardian ad litem may assist the court in obtaining impartial expert examinations.
(5) The guardian ad litem may address the court and make written or oral recommendations to the court. The guardian ad litem shall file a written report which may include recommendations and a statement of the wishes of the child. The report must be filed and served on all parties at least 20 days prior to the hearing at which it will be presented unless the court waives such time limit. The guardian ad litem must be provided with copies of all pleadings, notices, and other documents filed in the action and is entitled to reasonable notice before any action affecting the child is taken by either of the parties, their counsel, or the court.
(6) A guardian ad litem, acting through counsel, may file such pleadings, motions, or petitions for relief as the guardian ad litem deems appropriate or necessary in furtherance of the guardian’s function. The guardian ad litem, through counsel, is entitled to be present and to participate in all depositions, hearings, and other proceedings in the action, and, through counsel, may compel the attendance of witnesses.
(7) The duties and rights of nonattorney guardians do not include the right to practice law.
(8) The guardian ad litem shall submit his or her recommendations to the court regarding any stipulation or agreement, whether incidental, temporary, or permanent, which affects the interest or welfare of the minor child, within 10 days after the date such stipulation or agreement is served upon the guardian ad litem.
In child custody litigation practice, a Guardian Ad Litem is oftentimes family law attorneys whom both parents agree to appoint in the case.  One primary purpose of the Guardian allow the court to “hear from” the child without putting the child through the stress of participating as a witness in the family court proceeding.  Typically parties waive hearsay objections, meaning the Guardian Ad Litem may tell the court what other parties have told them.  In fact, in cases where hearsay has not been waived, parties oftentimes do not proceed with a Guardian Ad Litem due to the necessity for the Guardian to rely on hearsay for many of his/her recommendations.
A Guardian Ad Litem will oftentimes meet with both parties individually, the child(ren) separately, and with the child(ren) at each parents home.  The Guardian will also communicate with teachers, friends, family members and anyone else who has relevant information to share about the parents and child.  The Guardian will then prepare a report detailing all of his/her findings and making recommendations to the court.  These recommendations are typically made pursuant to the statutory factors the court must use in determining timesharing.  The Guardian Ad Litem’s recommendation is not binding, and a court is not required to follow any or all of it.
A Guardian Ad Litem is a very useful tool in a Tampa divorce or child custody case.  If you would like more information about utilizing a Guardian Ad Litem or having an attorney at the Bowes Law Group serve as a Guardian Ad Litem in your case, please contact us.