In a previous article, Carolyn Jansons discussed the roll of a Guardian Ad Litem in a custody case. In this article, I will provide some advice regarding how to work with a Guardian ad Litem in your custody case. As discussed in the previous article, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is an integral component of the judicial system when it comes to custody cases. GAL’s are the eyes and ears of the court. For this reason, the parents’ interaction with the GAL is of primary importance.
It should go without saying that this interaction with the GAL should be taken very seriously. The GAL is going to report to the judge his or her observations about your interaction and your involvement as a parent with your children. You should not view the GAL as an enemy, but you want to put your best foot forward and make the most favorable impression on the GAL you can provide.
Putting your best foot forward does not mean putting on a show that is fake. You need to be yourself. Nobody is perfect. The important thing is to reflect to the GAL how much you care about your children and to focus on your children’s best interest.
In fact, it helps to understand that the only purpose of the GAL is to look out for, to protect and to promote the best interest of children involved in a custody dispute. Parents often lose sight of that, especially in the emotion and drama that often accompanies a custody dispute. If you spend the entire time meeting with the GAL talking badly about the other parent, you are not going to score any points with the GAL. This is, perhaps, the biggest mistake that parents make.
It might “work” in political ads to slam political opponents, but it doesn’t work well in family situations to slam the other parent of your children. Nothing is going to change the fact that she is your children’s mother or he is the children’s father. Like it or not, you will forever be connected to him or her through the children for the rest of your children’s lives, until you pass.
If you demonstrate to the GAL that you cannot get along with the other parent when it comes to doing what’s best for the children, you will not score highly on the GAL’s assessment of your parenting skills. This point can’t be emphasized enough.
Of course, custody disputes arise precisely because of tensions in the relationship between the parents. This doesn’t mean, however, that the children should be thrust into the middle of those tensions. As difficult as it may be, especially if he or she may be bad mouthing you, you “cannot go there”. It will reflect badly on you.
If you are focused on your children’s best interests, and the Guardian ad Litem can see and have confidence in the fact that you have your children’s best interests in mind, you will score much higher in their evaluation of you.
There is an old country saying: When you fight with someone, it’s like rolling around in the mud with a pig. All you do is get dirty and the pig likes it. You can’t bad mouth the other parent without looking bad yourself. If you know that the other parent is saying bad things about you, it’s okay to acknowledge that, but you should not reciprocate. It’s okay to let the GAL know that you are aware the other parent is saying bad things about you, but its better for you to say that you want to take the high road and do the right thing by not saying bad things about the other person.
As was said previously, nobodies perfect. There is no doubt that you have made mistakes and said and done things that you later regretted. People are human, and that’s what humans do. Hopefully we learn from out mistakes and do not repeat them. The important thing when it comes to the best interests of the children is not that you are a perfect parent; the important thing is that you love them and have their best interests at heart.
As difficult as it may seem, you should also try to be open and transparent with the GAL. Children sense when things are not quite right, and children don’t have the filters that adults learn to put on. A trained Guardian ad Litem also knows these things. They can see when something isn’t quite adding up. It is better to be open and honest than to leave the dark suspicion of doubt in a GAL’s mind from things the kids say that may be different from the rosy picture you have painted.
Again, no one is perfect. Own it. Focus on the best interests of your children and being the best parent you can be.
Going through a divorce or a custody dispute in a paternity case is probably one of the hardest things you will ever do. Emotions can be frayed to the point of breaking. You will get through it though. You have to. Regardless of the outcome, you will always be your children’s parent, and they will always be your children. If you focus on their best interests, you can never go wrong. While your entire life and future may seem to hang in the balance, life will go on. Try to keep a long-term perspective.
Keep in mind, also, that people who do GAL work are generally people who are sincerely interested in doing the right thing. People who gravitate toward GAL work generally desire to help children. The GAL is not your enemy, but your friend who wants the best for your children, just like you do. Most GAL’s have children themselves. They know that no one is perfect, and that life can be messy sometimes.
Understanding the role of a GAL in your custody case will help you have some piece of mind. While no one knows your children like you do, a judge will place value in the GAL’s report as an unbiased observer. A GAL becomes the eyes and ears of the judge in a custody case. Meeting with the GAL is your opportunity to focus with them on the best interests of your children. People have a natural tendency of becoming guarded and suspicious but there is no reason to become guarded and suspicious as long as you are focused on the best interests of your children. Instead of making the GAL your enemy, make the GAL your friend for the best interest of your children.Kevin G. Drendel Drendel & Jansons Law Group 111 Flinn Street Batavia, IL 60510 (630) 406-5440 (630) 406-6179 fax [email protected] foxvalleyestateplanning.com