If you are or have been involved in litigation with a co-parent, you may have considered whether to use the services of a Guardian Ad Litem or Parenting Coordinator. Most likely these roles are new to you, and it can sometimes be hard to tell what the difference is between them. If you feel like you need some help with parenting-related questions or tasks, which professional do you need?
A Guardian Ad Litem (often called “GAL”) is appointed by the court during an ongoing case. This means that the court is considering the request of at least one party such as a request for custody of a child during a divorce or a request to change a custody or parenting time order already in place and the court has not fully resolved the case. The court appoints a GAL to assist as the court considers the child-related questions and requests that are pending. The role of a GAL is advocate for one or more children shared by the parties to the case. Since children do not hire their own attorneys to make sure that their interests are considered by the court, it can sometimes feel that the children’s interests are not a part of the case. A GAL is appointed by the court to inform the court of what the children’s interests are and to advocate for what is best for the children. Think of a GAL as someone who stands in the shoes of the children to make arguments for them. This prevents the children from having to get involved in a court case and ensures that their voices can still be heard. The GAL does not represent the interests of either the Mother or Father in a case, and in fact, might disagree with them both. Typically, a GAL will prepare a written report, will attend all court hearings regarding child-related issues, will provide testimony and evidence, and may even question other witnesses. Generally, when the court decides the issues of the case and issues an order, the job of the GAL is over.
A Parenting Coordinator (often called “PC”) is appointed by the court after a child-related order has been issued. The PC is not an advocate for the children as there is no longer a need for the court to listen to the children’s interests before making a decision. A decision has already been made. Instead, the PC assists parents with administering the order that the court has issued. The court is required to issue an order which is in the best interest of a child, and therefore, the PC is not to determine what is in the best interests of the child as it has already been determined. The PC has no power to change the court order and must rely on the court’s judgment that the order in place is in the child’s best interests. As a result, a PC cannot change custody, make changes to parenting time that impacts the division of time between parents, or make major financial decisions related to the child. What a PC can do is assist parents with establishing procedures for everyday parenting tasks such as communication, expense sharing, and transportation. In addition, the PC can help parents who disagree about joint decisions by mediating discussions between parent designed to build consensus. If consensus is not possible, the PC can make the tie breaking vote regarding the joint decision. If a parent disagrees about a PC’s recommendation, the parent can ask the court to overturn the PC’s decision. A PC is assigned to a case for period of time (generally one to two years). When the appointment period ends, if the PC is not reappointed, his or her service is over.
When considering whether you need a GAL or PC, the most relevant question is whether your case is still being decided by the court or whether it has already been decided. There is generally no role for a PC in a case until there is an order issued and no role for a GAL when the advocacy is over and the court has reached a decision.