When children are involved in a divorce or separation, the best interests of the children should be of paramount importance in determining such issues as custody, child support and visitation agreements. And a court may appoint an attorney as a guardian ad litem, whose function is to represent the best interests of the children during the often difficult, emotionally draining experience of divorce or separation.
The literal definition of guardian ad litem is “guardian for the suit,” and it is not the same thing as a legal guardian, who is the person charged with the legal authority and duty to care for the personal and property interests of an individual. By contrast, a guardian ad litem is the person appointed by a judge to assist the court in ascertaining the circumstances of a matter before the court. In the case of a divorce or separation, the guardian ad litem helps determine the interests of the children.
In Virginia, the courts appoint attorneys to perform the role of a guardian ad litem. While a court may make the determination that a guardian ad litem should be appointed in a divorce or separation, either parent may also request that a guardian ad litem be appointed for their child.
In order to help determine which custody and visitation arrangements are in the best interests of a child, the guardian ad litem will typically perform an investigation that will gather relevant information and may include interviews with the parents, children, other key family members or any other person who has frequent contact with the child. Older children will have the opportunity to discuss their concerns, wants and needs with a guardian ad litem, but the latter will always advocate what he or she believes is in the best interest of the child.
Divorce or separation is rarely an easy experience, and the help of an experienced divorce attorney is often pivotal to the legal process. A experienced family law attorney also qualified to be a guardian ad litem is also invaluable should a court decide that one must be appointed in a divorce proceeding.