Divorce rates may be on the decline, but there are still hundreds of thousands of divorces (affecting hundreds of thousands of children) each year.
For children under two, the impact of a divorce will be minimal. Experts suggest that kids between the ages of 3-11 will experience the most emotional trauma from a divorce.
Regardless of how old your children are (or how messy your divorce is), you no doubt want what’s best for them. For that reason, many couples decide to hire a guardian or attorney ad litem. In some courts, the judge may even require you to have one.
What is an ad litem, exactly? And when would it make sense to bring one onboard during your divorce proceedings? Keep reading for the answers.
What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?
To be clear, a guardian ad litem does not become a guardian to your child. Rather, they are an independent investigator who is appointed by the court to prepare a detailed report about your child’s circumstances.
Ad litems can be attorneys, social workers, or family counselors. Their role is to interview each parent and child, along with caregivers, teachers, and family members. They may also access school records, medical records, police reports, and other relevant documents.
They’ll use this information to evaluate how the child is coping with the divorce. Then they’ll prepare a report for the judge that includes their recommendations for the child’s best interests. Ultimately, the judge will decide child custody arrangements, but the insight from the ad litem will factor into their decision.
Do I Need an Ad Litem?
Here are 5 circumstances where an ad litem could become a valuable asset during your divorce.
1. Contradictory Declarations
Are you and your spouse reporting very different stories about your roles as parents? The more discrepancies in your case, the more likely a judge will want an ad litem to investigate the details.
2. Media Evidence
The court has little time to listen to recordings, watch videos, or examine social media posts during a hearing. If there’s a lot of media evidence to review, an ad litem can handle this and report their findings to the judge.
3. Allegations of Addiction or Abuse
A judge can’t physically go outside of the courtroom to investigate serious allegations, but an ad litem can. Part of their job is to determine if there is a viable reason to suspect domestic violence, sexual or physical abuse, or drug or alcohol addiction.
4. Specific Information from the Children
It’s rare for a court to ask your child to testify, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in their thoughts and observations. An ad litem can tactfully speak with your child and report back to the judge with what was said.
5. Records from Child Protective Services
An ad litem may be able to access some sensitive records that are otherwise off-limits. This might include CPS or similar organizations.
What’s Best for Your Divorce Case?
Each family (and divorce) is unique, just as divorce laws differ from state to state.
If you feel an ad litem could be an asset to your case, talk to your divorce attorney about the possibility of hiring one. It could make a big difference in the outcome of your divorce—and your child’s future.
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