Series on Child Custody: Part Three, Guardians Ad Litem

No area of law seems to operate under a single standard more than child custody – Roy T. Stuckey

The best interests of the child is the governing factor in child custody cases. So, it only makes sense that the best interests of the child is THE guiding light for guardians ad litem appointed in child custody or visitation disputes.

A guardian ad litem is appointed by the Family Court, and only persons meeting the statutory qualifications can be appointed as a guardian ad litem. In some instances, the court will choose who shall be appointed as the guardian ad litem while in other instances the parties’ attorneys will choose the guardian ad litem. In either event, the parties to a private child custody action are responsible for the costs incurred by the guardian ad litem as he or she serves as a representative of the Family Court.

Ultimately, the guardian ad litem’s job is to ascertain the best interests of the children involved in the custody or visitation dispute and to protect those interests by informing the court and all parties of his or her findings in written reports. Steps a guardian ad litem may take in determining the best interests of the children include, but are not limited to:

  • Meeting with and observing the child(ren) in the home setting;
  • When appropriate, considering the child(ren)’s wishes;
  • Interviewing parents, caregivers, and others with relevant knowledge;
  • Reviewing the child(ren)’s medical, school and other health records;
  • Observing the relationship between the parents and the child(ren);
  • Observing the parent’s interactions with the child(ren);
  • Attending all court hearings

When dealing with a custody or visitation dispute, keep in mind that while the role of a guardian ad litem is an important one, the guardian ad litem is not the decision-maker on the ultimate issue of child custody and visitation.  If the parties cannot agree as to child custody or visitation, a trial will take place in Family Court.  During trial, all parties’ sides will be presented, the guardian ad litem’s findings will be presented, and the final outcome will lie in the hands of the judge hearing the case.

For more information on Guardians Ad Litem, see:

http://childlaw.sc.edu/frmSCStatutes/63-11-500%20et%20seq.pdf