Are you litigating a child custody matter in Pennsylvania in which a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) has been appointed? A GAL’s recommendation can have a significant impact on a custody dispute. As a GAL can recommend sole custody in a Pennsylvania custody dispute, strong legal representation by a Philadelphia child custody lawyer is essential.
This article provides an overview of a GAL’s role in a family law case in Pennsylvania.
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
Under Pennsylvania law (23 PA CSA §5334), a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is appointed by a court either on its own to authority or at the request of a party to represent the best interests of a child in a custody case. Pennsylvania law (Rule 1915.11-2(b)) also requires a GAL to be either an attorney or a licensed mental health professional. A GAL’s role is to investigate the case and make recommendations to the court relating to what they believe is the best custody decision based on a child’s emotional and physical health. This differs from an attorney which represents a child’s legal interests, which may not necessarily align.
Guardian Ad Litem & Sole Custody Decisions
Under Pennsylvania law (23 PA CSA §5322 & §5323), a court can award one parent sole legal and sole physical custody, which means one parent has sole physical possession of the child and sole legal authority to make important decisions on the child’s behalf. Courts are legally obligated under Pennsylvania law (§5328) to make custody decisions based on the best interest of the standard. A Guardian Ad Litem can recommend sole custody if they believe it is in the child’s best interests.
Guardian Ad Litems Make Decisions in the Best Interests of the Child
Similar to courts, Guardians Ad Litem are legally required (Rule 1915.11-2(c)(1)) to make their recommendations based on the best interest of the child and must also convey the child’s wishes. To form a recommendation, a GAL will investigate by interviewing the child’s parents, the child in order to learn the child’s wishes, and other individuals who may have relevant information, along with reviewing school records, medical records if relevant, other necessary documents, interview witnesses and review relevant court records. When making a recommendation on custody matters, a GAL considers a variety of factors, such as the child’s relationship with each parent, their living situation, and any special needs the child may have.
Disputing a Recommendation by a GAL
When Guardian Ad Litem prepares a written report for a custody dispute, it must contain the Guardian Ad Litem’s recommendations. If you disagree with a recommendation made by a Guardian Ad Litem, Pennsylvania law (Rule 1915.11-2(d)(5) and (6)) allows you to challenge the report by filing a comment, objecting to the report’s admissibility at trial, or subpoenaing witnesses who were interviewed. You can also cross-examine the Guardian Ad Litem at trial.
Talk with a Pennsylvania Child Custody Attorney
A Guardian Ad Litem can play an outsized role in child custody court proceedings. The Philadelphia child custody attorneys at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman have been successfully representing clients in cases involving Guardian Ad Litems for over 40 years. To learn about our services, contact us today for a free consultation. We have also been appointed by the Court as Guardian ad Litems in complex custody cases.
Summary of Guardian Ad Litem & Sole Custody in Pennsylvania
In a Pennsylvania child custody case, a Guardian Ad Litem can recommend sole custody if they believe it is in the child’s best interests. However, the court ultimately decides on custody matters, and the GAL’s recommendation is just one factor the court considers. If you disagree with a recommendation made by a GAL or wish to see about reversing a sole custody decision, you can dispute it with the help of an experienced Philadelphia child custody attorney.