What Is Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) In A Divorce or Custody Case?
In Michigan, the entry of a judgment of divorce is final with regards to property division, division of debt and in some instances alimony. Custody, parenting time (visitation) and child support are always modifiable as well as alimony in many cases. Unfortunately there are cases where after the entry of the divorce judgment, the parents continue to have conflict and acrimony to the extent that they often return to court to argue about these issues for years.
In such high conflict or contentious cases, the court may appoint a lawyer as the guardian ad litem (GAL) in cases where the child's interests may be inadequately represented. The GAL meets with the child and acts as the child's attorney. The GAL may interview other people and professionals involved in the case in an attempt to ferret out the truth and determine what is in the child's best interests regarding custody and parenting time. The GAL may file a written report and recommendation to the court. The GAL should take the child's wishes into consideration when making the recommendation but weigh those wishes against the child's age and competency when reporting to the court. The appointment of a GAL is a means for the court to have someone the court trusts investigate and report to the court when there is a high degree of conflict or there are very severe allegations. It can be a very effective way to handle such cases.
The biggest drawback to the GAL is the costs involved. A recent decision in a local case, Royce v Laporte (Oakland County Circuit Court No. 2007-741,737-DC) provides a good example of just how costly the appointment of a GAL can be. The court ordered the appointment of the GAL in 2011 and ordered that the fees would be apportioned between the parties in the discretion of the GAL. If the GAL believed that the conduct of one party disproportionately necessitated the GAL's involvement, the GAL could apportion more of the fees to that party, rather than having the parties equally share the bill. In that case, the GAL served from 2011 to 2016, but did not submit any bills for services until 2016. In 2016, the GAL submitted a bill for $64,055.05. The court reduced the fee to $39,182.50, but ordered the Defendant to pay $21,734.34 of the bill and the Plaintiff to pay only $11,781.50 of the overall bill because the Defendant (the mother in that case) created more need for the GAL to intervene in the case.
Divorce or family law is a deceptively complicated area of the law. If you have questions regarding property division, debt, alimony, support or prenuptial agreements, please call my office at (248) 608-4132 and speak with Cathy to schedule an appointment or contact us through the web site.