woman ringing doorbell at a house

What to Expect

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed by the Court as a neutral third party whose duty is to represent the best interests of the minor child to the Family Court. SC Code § 63-3-830 (2012) lays the groundwork for a GAL’s responsibilities.  Your guardian ad litem is one of the people in the case who can significantly affect the outcome of your custody dispute. It’s normal to be nervous, but the more relaxed you are, the more your child is likely to be at ease. Here are a few things you can do that can help you feel more in control and improve efficiency on my end:


Be proactive

The old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is a reflection of human nature. Go ahead and call to schedule an appointment to meet one on one, without your child(ren) present. Be prepared by gathering report cards, school and medical records, letters from friends and family, and printing out photos of text messages or Facebook posts for me. I understand that child care and work schedules can make it difficult to travel, so when possible, I am very flexible and can talk over videoconference or meet closer to your location so that we can talk without your children around. On that note. . .


Inform children, but don’t involve them.

I will be meeting with your child in their home environment(s) and maybe at daycare/school. Depending on the child’s age and ability to comprehend, they need to know that I am “a family friend” and will be visiting with them, asking some questions and that they should be honest. However, don’t put the burden of responsibility for the case outcomes on the child and have them feel like they are caught in the middle. Don’t coach them on what to say or question your child after a GAL visit about the conversation. Those conversations are largely confidential between the child and me.

Most children are excited to show me their favorite toys, pets, and special interests. I will likely be meeting with the child alone, depending on their age and ability to have a conversation. Don’t worry, I carry activity pages, tablet apps, and art supplies, and am experienced in conversational interviews. 

A note on home visits: We all live in our homes and some clutter, laundry, and other signs of life are expected. I am looking for safety and serious cleanliness issues. 


Be honest 

No one is perfect, but it’s better to admit progress you’ve made with addressing flaws or accusations than to lie or pretend they don’t exist. Documentation can be helpful in supporting your progress and seeking help for mental health, physical limitations, or history of not meeting your child’s needs. Willingness to seek help for yourself or your child is a protective parenting skill. 

Never make false accusations of the other party, and back up legitimate ones with evidence. Don’t encourage or instruct your child to lie. It can be costly for me to chase down the truth. 


Follow up periodically and remain current

Email about any relevant updates you have, a written record is preferable to phone calls, though most emails will likely prompt me to call to discuss the content. If there is an emergency, especially one that affects or involves your child, do both. If you have an attorney, please cc them on correspondence so everyone has the same information.

In most cases, the judge will order both parties to pay a split percentage of the GAL fees (50/50 on average). You will be responsible for the entire investigation, not just the time spent talking with you or spending time at your home. You wouldn’t work for free, nor would your lawyer, so please pay your retainer as soon as possible, and try to keep your account current. I understand that most people need a reasonable payment plan. 


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