Who Pays for a Guardian Ad Litem?
Minor children are too young to have a voice in legal proceedings which affect them. Nonetheless, courts do not simply assume that parents have their child’s best interests at heart. In fact, parents might not even agree on what’s best for their children, or they could fail to bring important issues to the court’s attention.
Like other states, South Carolina courts will employ a guardian ad litem (GAL) in many family law cases. One question we receive is: "Who pays for a guardian ad litem service?" At Surasky Law, we have handled many cases where a court appointed a guardian ad litem and are familiar with their role in contested custody cases. We provide more information about the role GALs play in family law court below.
What Role Does a Guardian Ad Litem Serve?
In family law cases, the guardian ad litem represents the interests of a minor child. The GAL is tasked with uncovering information about the family to identify what would benefit the child the most.
We have seen GALs used most frequently in cases involved in the following cases:
Contested custody or visitation
Legal name changes
Abuse or neglect cases
Termination of parental rights
A GAL is most often a lawyer with a background in these types of cases. However, under the South Carolina Code, Section 63-3-820, even non-lawyers can serve if they have taken the necessary training and are at least 25 years old. In fact, non-lawyer volunteers are most common in abuse or termination of parental rights cases involving the state.
What Are the Duties of a Guardian Ad Litem?
You can find the responsibilities listed at Section 63-3-830 of the South Carolina Code. They have many important duties:
Conduct an investigation into a family
Interview parents and children to better understand their relationship
Perform home inspections
Request criminal background checks on parents and other parties, like a parent’s new boyfriend or girlfriend
Ask parents to take a drug test if there are questions about chemical dependency
Review medical records for each parent and children involved
Request a psychological evaluation to better assess each parent’s ability to care for a child
The goal for the GAL is to gain a sufficient understanding of the family. The GAL then issues a formal report, supported by evidence, which is distributed to the judge and the parties. As your attorney, we read this report very carefully.
How Important is the Guardian’s Report?
Very important. Judges often lean on this report heavily when determining child custody. Many judges probably already assume that each parent will present evidence that puts them in the best possible light. The GAL report is supposed to be objective, and most judges will give it that kind of consideration.
Can Parents Pick the Guardian?
If they can agree on who to choose, then they can pick their own guardian ad litem. They might each agree that a certain person should serve. Unfortunately, many parents don’t agree, so a judge must decide who fulfills the role.
If you are going through a custody issue, it’s important to have an attorney. We can review the credentials of any proposed guardian ad litem. There is no reason to agree to someone your spouse recommends, since that person could be biased in your spouse’s favor.
How Much Do Guardians Charge?
The court will set the guardian’s rate and maximum fee. The amount varies, so contact an attorney for more information about how much local GALs cost.
Who Pays for the Guardian ad Litem?
Payment depends on the family law case. If the Department of Social Service (DSS) is involved, then state funds will be used. This happens most commonly in cases involving the termination of parental rights or abuse/neglect.
When the state isn’t involved, the parties involved in the litigation will pay for the costs. You should discuss payment with your family law attorney. If the other side has much more resources than you do, we might ask the judge to have them pay for the entire cost of the GAL.
Should You Worry About What the Guardian ad Litem Says?
This is a person who has tremendous credibility for the judge. If your case isn’t contested, then you probably won’t have a GAL. The fact that you are fighting over custody means the judge must decide which parent is better able to care for the child. A GAL has the credibility based on a thorough investigation to speak objectively about your case.
In fact, many judges don’t get acquainted with the dispute until they read the GAL. That is their first exposure to the issues in dispute. The report can definitely shape how the judge views your case.
Guardian ad litems are supposed to be objective and not offer an opinion about how they think a case should be decided. Nonetheless, many judges will ask for the Guardian’s opinion about what they should do. For example, a judge who is undecided about whether parents can share legal custody might ask the GAL for her opinion. In our experience, the Guardian’s report is one of the most important pieces of evidence in a custody dispute.
How Important is the Interview with the Guardian?
Very important. You want to be prepared to meet and talk openly and honestly about yourself. A guardian ad litem is definitely not your advocate.
Parents can also expect a GAL to make a surprise home inspection. This means you should immediately address any problems with your home, like exposed wires that are unsafe. Parents with chemical dependency issues need to ensure that drugs and alcohol are not present in the home, because the GAL can find that.
Contact Us with Questions about Guardians or Custody
If you see a custody battle on the horizon, or if you are entangled with DSS in an abuse or neglect case, contact us. Surasky Law represents parents so that their voices don’t get lost in the process. Stand up for your rights today by calling us or sending us an online message. We can discuss who to pick as a GAL or how to respond to an unfavorable report.