By: Amber Godfrey
Ms. Godfrey has been practicing law for 13 years. Prior to joining WhitbeckBennett, she founded her own private practice in 2016 in Oklahoma City. She focuses on family law, which includes divorce, child support, custody modifications, Guardian ad Litem, adoption, and guardianships, as well as estate law which includes estate planning, probate. To learn more about Amber Godfrey, click here.
Guardian ad Litem or Attorney for the Child: Part II
Typically, once the assessment is complete, they will write a Report for the Court and the parties’ attorneys. The Court may then use the Report however it needs to, taking care not to simply “rubber stamp” what the GAL had to say. The Court still has to keep an open mind and consider all evidence presented to it. Oftentimes, within the Report, the GAL will also offer a recommendation of what the Court should do as a possible outcome. Again, though, the Court has to consider all evidence before it and not simply take the GAL’s recommendation. Before anyone even gets to a trial, though, the parties may consider the GAL’s recommendation and even settle exactly on it or along those same lines, recognizing that the Court may follow those recommendations. In this sense, the parents get to help control the narrative and outcome where their children are concerned, instead of leaving it up to the Court to decide. It also helps to minimize the vitriol between the parents and lessen whatever litigation may be in play.
At the end of the day, parents often will still call the GAL the “child’s attorney” to the child for lack of a better way (or understanding) of what to call them. While “coaching” of the child it’s not acceptable and is wholly discouraged, one can easily see the predicament that the parents are put in to explain why this random person is now interviewing their child. An easy way for parents to explain this, though, is to tell the child that both parents really love their child and want to do what’s best for them, but the parents don’t always agree on what that is. In order to help them see things from a different perspective or to be creative and come up with ideas neither of them had considered, there is a person to help them figure that out. As a GAL myself, I also usually tell kids that what they say to me won’t get “ratted out” to their parents, so they are welcome to tell me anything, and I will do my best to come up with a solution that makes them and their parents happy and that makes the most sense for everyone, without them feeling like they have to decide matters because those are “big people issues,” and they don’t need to worry about it—their job is to be a kid, work hard in school, help around the house, be kind to siblings, and just enjoy growing up.
If parents can stick to this “explanation” of who the GAL is, it will help to minimize confusion over their role in the case so that children feel heard but are not armored with an unrealistic or unhealthy sense of control over the outcome.