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What is the role of a Guardian ad litem? - Emily R. Carstensen

By Emily Carstensen on October 23, 2020

During the divorce process, parents often find themselves unable to come to a mutual agreement as to custody and parenting time. It is then up to the court to determine parenting and custody arrangements that are in the best interest of the child or children. While there are a multitude of scenarios, no two cases are exactly alike. Each family’s dynamic is unique and varies depending upon their individual needs.  A judge may decide to utilize the assistance of a Guardian ad litem, (often an attorney), to represent the best interests of the children. The role of the Guardian ad litem (GAL) is to represent the best interests of the child or children in a manner that is unbiased. Ultimately, the GAL is tasked with making recommendations to the court, that are optimal for that family’s individual needs.

A Guardian ad litem is a neutral party whose main goal is to focus specifically on the best interests of a child or children involved in a particular case. Once appointed, the GAL will speak with a number of people, including  the children, their parents and any other individuals that are heavily involved in the child’s life. Simply put, a GAL acts as the court’s “investigator” and seeks to establish the facts in the case. A GAL may speak with collateral contacts (i.e.: family members, friends, principals, counselors, teachers, babysitters, etc.) to get a better understanding of the children’s individual situation and needs. If residential custody or relocation is a contested issue, the GAL may meet with schools to help determine which best fits the children and their needs or may seek the appointment of an independent expert to determine the which school system is best suited for the child in question.. It is imperative as a GAL to focus on the needs of the specific children involved and to make decisions on those interests alone.

Once the GAL has concluded their “investigation,” their findings are submitted to the court. An extensive report is often produced itemizing every person interviewed, an outline of the custody factors according to the law and concluding with recommendations. The recommendations of a GAL are often the backbone to decisions regarding custody and parenting time and are strongly considered by the court. While a GAL is often appointed by the court, parties and their attorneys may also request a Guardian ad litem should they feel it would be beneficial to their situation.

Should the court decide a GAL is necessary for the case they will appoint an appropriate party. The court may also determine how the GAL’s fees will be distributed between the parties involved. The role of the GAL is important and can significantly help to ensure cases with contested custody and parenting time issues reach beneficial resolutions for the children involved. A GAL’s recommendations are deliberate and conducive for all interested parties.


About the Author 

Emily R. Carstensen specializes in high conflict custody and parenting time matters. In addition, she also handles cases involving divorce, alimony, child support, domestic violence, prenuptial agreements and post-divorce applications. She cares deeply about her clients and dedicates her time to helping them navigate difficult and stressful situations.  She actively protects her clients by ensuring their needs and the needs of their children are never jeopardized or overlooked.

Emily is regularly appointed by the judiciary and her peers as Guardian Ad Litem and Parenting Coordinator to represent the best interests of children in custody and parenting time disputes.  She has extensive courtroom experience throughout northern and central New Jersey, and regularly appears in Bergen, Morris, Passaic, and Essex Counties.

If you have questions regarding a GAL, parent coordinator or family law matter, contact Emily for a consultation today. Call (201) 488-3366 or email Snyder Sarno D’Aniello Maceri & da Costa is currently accepting new clients and our office has fully adapted to handle all types of family law matters remotely.

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