What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in a Virginia Custody Case?

little girl sitting on stairs

Hello my name is Joey Haynes and I’m an attorney with the Jackson Law Group in Hillsville, Virginia. I have been practicing law for 20 years as of this May. Today I want to discuss how a guardian ad litem is appointed in the case of child custody matters or abuse and neglect cases. I will also address what the role of the Guardian Ad Litem is in those type matters.

The court has discretion to appoint a guardian ad litem either on its own or upon motion of the parties or of the party’s council. A guardian ad litems role in a case is to investigate matters that the court directs and such other matters that the guardian ad litem deems necessary. These matters allow the guardian to form an opinion about the best interest of the child and the best interest of the child in terms of the child’s ultimate disposition with the court in a given matter. In the course of doing the investigation the guardian ad litem will speak with parents, other individuals that the child may have contact with such as, doctors, educators, counselors, babysitters, neighbors, other caregivers or family members.

In a sense any number of individuals that play a role in the day-to-day life of the child and that may have a role in providing care and maintenance for the child may be spoken with. At the time of trial the guardian ad litem will be asked by the court to make a recommendation concerning the child’s placement. For instance in a custody proceeding or ultimately in the outcome of an abuse or neglect case if it is a foster-care matter. The guardian ad litem will reach this recommendation through not only the earlier contacts with individuals but also through obtaining interviewing various documentary evidence. These documents may be from medical providers or other entities that may have responsibility for interacting with the child.

The guardian ad Litem sometimes will have a recommendation that differs from the wishes of a child. In such cases the guardian ad litem has a responsibility to notify the court of the child’s wishes but also to advise the court of the guardian ad litems recommendation standing alone. The court is not obligated to follow the guardian ad litem recommendation. They retain the status as the ultimate decision-maker in a case.