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What Does a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Do in Custody Cases and How Much Does it Cost to Hire One?

When asked to make a decision about a couple’s custody of their minor children, judges can only rely on the evidence and testimony that is presented to them in court.  A judge cannot leave the bench or the courthouse to see in person what the couple’s family life is really like and to gather more evidence for himself.  In addition, custody trials are often restricted to how many and who can testify at the trial.  Children are usually not permitted to testify.

So how does a judge get to hear about what other people think of each parent’s parenting and also get input from what the child wants?  They do it through a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) report that is filed and testimony that the GAL gives in court.

A GAL is usually either a mental health professional or an attorney who’s trained in how to perform a GAL investigation.  The GAL will look at the court file, speak to the parties’ attorneys, interview the parties and all collateral contacts, and depending on the age of the child will also speak with the child.  After they gather all the evidence and testimony, they write a GAL report that the attorneys and the judge gets to see.  This report will usually include a recommendation by the GAL as to the dispute – whether it be a custody or simply parenting plan issue.

The opinion and fact finding of the GAL is very persuasive to a judge because the GAL is basically the eyes and ears of the judge.  A lot of weight is given to the truthfulness of the report and also the recommendation.

The parties usually pay for the cost of the GAL although in some situations where the parties have limited means, the court will pay.  A GAL can charge anywhere from $5,000 to over $10,000 for an investigation, depending on the GAL and the extent of the investigation.  This amount can be apportioned between the parties if they agree or can be ordered to be paid in certain percentages by the judge.

For more information about how a GAL works and if a GAL might be needed in your case, contact us for a free phone consultation.