Guardian Ad Litem

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In child custody and visitation cases, the court often appoints a Guardian ad Litem. The Guardian ad Litem is an attorney whose role is to represent to the court what they believe is in the best interest of the child.

The Best Interest of the Child

In Virginia, the court always makes decisions about children by using the “best interest” standard. This standard includes several factors which must be considered. For example, when a GAL makes a recommendation about where a child should live, they must consider the child’s age and mental condition. An infant is going to have different needs than a teenager. Other factors include the physical and mental condition of each parent, the relationship between the child and each parent, each parent’s ability to work with the other parent, and any history of abuse. The full list of the factors considered can be found in the Code of Virginia.

How Does the GAL Determine What the Best Interest Is?

In order to determine what the best interest of the child is, the Guardian ad Litem must conduct an independent investigation into the case. This means that the GAL will usually schedule a home-visit with each party to see where the child would be spending their time while in that parent’s care. The main goals are to figure out what the child’s wishes are (if the child is an appropriate age), whether the current arrangement is working and is safe, and how the child is doing in general.

GALs typically will obtain medical records and report cards, and will often speak with teachers, counselors or daycare providers. This allows the GAL the opportunity to gather information about the child’s personality as well as their physical and mental state. Your child will probably be asked to meet with the GAL without the parents as well. This can take place in the GAL’s office or in the child’s home.

The GAL’s Role in Court

The GAL is an attorney in court, and can ask questions of either side. The GAL cannot be questioned by either side, and does not testify. Instead, the GAL provides a report that includes what their recommendation is, and what they discovered through their investigation. This report is sometimes written in advance and provided to the parties.

It is very often the case that the judge’s decision will align with the GAL’s recommendation. The attorneys at Commander Law know how to work side by side with the GALs to ensure that they fully understand the ins and outs of the case. We work tirelessly to make sure all of your concerns are heard so that the GAL’s recommendation takes into consideration all of the factors that are important to our clients.

 

What is a Nesting Agreement?

In a separation or divorce, maintaining as much stability and normalcy for children should be a priority. A great way to do that for parents who have the means is by reaching a nesting agreement. Nesting or bird nesting is when the children remain in the marital house, and the parents take turns living in the home with them. The visitation schedule will vary depending on the particular circumstances of the parties, with parents alternating every two weeks, weekly or with one coming for a weekend.

What are the benefits of a nesting agreement?

There are clear advantages to nesting. Divorce can be extremely devastating to children and being shuffled back and forth between one parent’s new apartment and their former home can add to the stress. In a nesting agreement, the children get to stay put and maintain their usual routine, familiar and comfortable surroundings and the stability of living in just one place. This often helps children to deal with the major changes going on around them. Nesting also allows the parents to secure a smaller second home or apartment since they don’t have to worry about having separate bedrooms for the children. Sometimes selling the marital home immediately would result in a financial loss to the parties, and being able to keep the home and continue to grow the equity can be beneficial to them later on.

What are the drawbacks of a nesting agreement?

Nesting isn’t for everyone, of course. Sometimes it is not financially feasible for both parents to get separate homes on top of maintaining the marital home. If the parents have issues with communication, then nesting can create even more issues because they need to work together to determine how the home must be maintained, which parent will pay the bills, which parent will be responsible for repairs and groceries, etc. A nesting agreement forces parents to interact more than they would if they both remained in their own home. Keeping the home can also cause the children to believe that the door is still open for the parents to reconcile.

Each family is different and the best way to determine what custody and visitation arrangement works best for your family is to discuss the pros and cons with an attorney at Commander Law. Together we can figure out what is best for your children and for you.