By Robert L. Mues   |   September 1st, 2018

What exactly is the role of a Guardian ad Litem In the State Of Ohio?

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: “Over the years this GAL post has received a lot of interest. Confusion is commonplace for parents about the purpose of a Guardian ad Litem and how the process works. Let us know if you have any GAL issues in Dayton or Southwest Ohio.”

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Guardian ad LitemA Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is usually a lawyer appointed by the Court to appear in a lawsuit on behalf of an incompetent or minor party. In Juvenile Court cases and Domestic Relations cases, the Guardian ad Litem is appointed on behalf of a minor child or minor children in custody, visitation, and/or other disputed child-related issues.

What does the Guardian ad Litem do?

The Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the Court to undertake an investigation of custody issues, visitation issues, and other parenting issues before the Court. The Guardian ad Litem is expected to meet with each parent individually and to meet with each parent and the child or children to be able to observe the interaction between each parent and the child or children. The Guardian ad Litem is also expected to meet with the child or children individually to determine the wishes of the child or children. If requested by either parent of the child or children, the minor child or children may be interviewed “in camera” by the appointed Judge or Magistrate with the Guardian ad Litem present.

An “in camera” interview is conducted with the Judge or Magistrate of the Court, the minor child or children of the parties, and the Guardian ad Litem. Each child is interviewed individually and neither party (Mother or Father) and/or neither party’s attorney is allowed to be present for the “in camera” interview. Parents and attorneys are excluded from the interview in order to increase the comfort level of the child or children.

The Guardian ad Litem is also given latitude to meet with and/or to conduct interviews with other persons. For example, it might be important for the Guardian ad Litem to speak with the child’s teachers, the child’s grandparents, the child’s baby sitters, and/or significant others or spouses of either parent.

Caveat or problem: Children who are not verbal cannot be interviewed and children who are not able to articulate their reasons for preferences may not be able to address their preferences/wishes to the satisfaction of the Court. The Court has great discretion in determining whether a child is able or not able to articulate his or her desires as to custody and visitation issues.

What is the Guardian ad Litem charged with doing?

The Guardian ad Litem, after being appointed by the Court and after meeting with the parties as suggested above, is tasked with providing to the Court and counsel for the parties a report setting forth the recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem.

Caveat or problem:

While families living locally can have home visits to determine the general condition(s) and safety of their homes and/or apartments, families living out of state do not usually have home visits of their homes due to lack of financial resources to pay for same.

Who pays for the services of the Guardian ad Litem?

The Court has great discretion in determining which party shall pay for the services of a Guardian ad Litem. In many instances, the Court will initially direct each party to pay for one half of the Guardian ad Litem’s fees. Depending upon the recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem, the Court may reserve the right to reallocate or reapportion the payment of the fees for the Guardian ad Litem.

For example, if Mother is asserting that Father is abusive with a harmful dependence upon drugs and/or alcohol and the Guardian ad Litem finds no evidence of same with his/her investigation of the family unit, the Court may direct Mother to pay for all of the Guardian ad Litem’s fees.

What are the “usual” fees for having a Guardian ad Litem?

The “usual” fees will vary from case to case and from Court to Court so the answer is dependent upon the facts of the case and the Court having jurisdiction of the case. In the Domestic Relations Court of Montgomery County, Ohio, the usual fee for a “private” Guardian ad Litem is the sum of $650.00. If the Guardian ad Litem has a particularly complex or unusual case, the fees may be greater than the sum of $650.00. If the case is referred to the Family Relations Department of the Family Court of Montgomery County, Ohio to serve as the Guardian ad Litem, the fees are much less than the sum of $650.00. If the case is being heard by the Juvenile Court of Montgomery County, Ohio, the Court may “absorb” the costs of the Guardian ad Litem.

When would either party seek the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem?

The Guardian ad Litem can play a very pivotal role in cases involving conflict and dispute regarding custody of the minor child or children, visitation issues, now known as parenting time issues, and any and all other child-related problems. The following case scenarios are examples wherein a Guardian ad Litem might be appointed to assist the Court in resolving the apparent conflict(s) between the parties:

  • Mother alleges that Father has a problem with drugs and/or alcohol or Father alleges that Mother has a problem with drugs and/or alcohol. If either party has the funds available to pay for a psychological evaluation or assessment of the parties ($3000 – $5000), one of the parties would request that such an evaluation be conducted. If the parties do not have the monies to pay for a psychological assessment, the Guardian ad Litem is a valuable and important substitute for an independent and objective assessment of the pending problematic situation.
  • Mother alleges that the present Wife of former Husband is abusive to the child and does not treat him/her fairly. The Guardian ad Litem would be in the position of interviewing the minor child, both parents, and any other relevant persons to determine if the child is being “abused” or “mistreated” by his/her present Step-Mother.
  • An adolescent child has opted to change “custody” from Mother to Father. After the transfer of custody, the minor adolescent child experiences problems with declining grades and behavioral problems. Mother wants custody of the minor child restored to her because she is not happy with the declining grades and/or apparent behavioral changes in the adolescent son. A Guardian ad Litem could serve the very useful purpose of determining whether a change of circumstances has occurred to warrant the change of custody from Father back to Mother.

In conclusion, a Guardian ad Litem can serve as a very important resource to either parent or party in divorce matters or post-Decree matters or in Juvenile Court matters. If either party wants an objective person or agency to assist with the resolution of custody issues, visitation issues, and other child-related matters, it is vital to ask the Court for the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem.

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Robert L. MuesAbout The Author: Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.

Blast From The Past: The Role and Functions of a Guardian ad Litem in the State of Ohio

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