Saturday, February 13, 2010


Today's installment comes from Stephanie Steele, Senior Associate and Supervising Attorney for The Manely Firm, P.C.


I’m not referring to angels or security guards or even life insurance.

I’m referring to Guardians ad Litem.  What or who is that, you ask?

Well, I grew up watching Law and Order, Matlock and LA Law.  Before attending law school, I worked in a law office and spent hours talking to former jurors, attorneys and paralegals about how the court works and what happens during a legal case.  During law school, I studied legal procedures, poured over judicial decisions and continued working in a law office.

It wasn’t until after law school, and after my first legal job that I ever heard of the little known yet hugely important Guardian ad Litem.

Literally, it means a guardian related to the lawsuit.  Effectively, it means someone (usually an attorney) trained and appointed by a court to investigate and report to the court regarding the best interests of a minor child or children involved in a domestic law case.

The importance of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) was brought home to me once again earlier this week.  The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed a ruling by Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge George F. Hutchinson, III, in which Judge Hutchinson adopted the GAL’s report and recommendation that a father be granted primary physical custody of the parties’ three children.  Salmon-Davis v. Davis, Supreme Court of Georgia, S09F1609 (2-1-10).

In Georgia, the Uniform Superior Court Rules govern the appointment, authority and access to information of a GAL.  Although our judicial system is the best in the world, judges are not omniscient.  The GAL goes to places, talks to people and obtains information that a Judge often cannot, due to the nature of the Judge’s role in a case.

The GAL is a person who can and does speak for children who are caught between two parents who have differing views on who should have custody, the amount and nature of visitation that is appropriate and how to best ensure the children’s quality of life.

A GAL has the authority to candidly talk to teachers, relatives, doctors, friends and the children themselves regarding all aspects of the children’s home life, their relationship with each parent and what custody and visitation arrangement(s) will most benefit the children.  They formulate opinions and report to the Court on their findings, making recommendations to the Court about which parent should have primary custody, the amount and nature of visitation the non-custodial parent should have and any other special provisions the GAL thinks appropriate.

I advise my clients to welcome the Guardian into your home with open arms.  The Guardian is there to protect your children, to ensure the future healthy growth of your children and to assist in shaping a Court Order that will help to build secure, positive relationships between both parents and your children.

So, in a way, I guess I do refer to angels and security guards and life insurance when I refer to Guardians.

Stephanie L. Steele

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