Parenting disputes including custodial determinations, companionship schedules and relocation requests among others, often require the appointment of a guardian ad litem to protect the best interest of the children involved. A guardian ad litem is not appointed to advocate for the wishes and desires of the children, but rather to render an opinion as to what result of the parenting issue is best for the the children. An attorney can also be appointed to advocate on behalf of the children when it appears that the guardian ad litem’s opinion may be contrary to what the children desire.
Guardians ad litem are charged with discharging their duties with “ independence, objectivity and fairness,” without conflict of interest. In reaching an opinion, a guardian ad litem must communicate with the parties and the children. Often the guardian ad litem will contact third parties including physicians, teachers, neighbors , and relatives who have observed the parties and the children, both separately and together. A guardian ad litem who is generally an attorney or mental health professional, is entitled to compensation as established by the court. The compensation is usually allocated between the parties as the court deems appropriate.
If it is alleged that the guardian ad litem has failed to discharge his/her duties as required, a party may seek to have the guardian ad litem removed from the case. The court has discretion to remove or retain the guardian ad litem. In a Medina County, Ohio case known as King v King, father claimed that the guardian ad litem failed to perform her duties, exhibited bias and prejudice, and failed to communicate with him on matters concerning the children. The court also commented that the case historically had been “extensive, costly, time consuming, and hostile.”
The court noted that father had instructed the guardian ad litem to communicate with him only through his attorney, and had failed to pay the guardian ad litem fees. The court concluded that father’s problem with the guardian ad litem was not bias or prejudice, but rather with what the court had ordered based partially on the guardian ad litem’s opinion.
Obviously, a guardian ad litem’s opinion which often forms the basis of the court’s resolution of the parenting issue will not please both parties. Hopefully, however, the guardian ad litem discharged his/her duties in a fair and objective manner and the opinion expressed truly is in the best interests of the children.