When a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is assigned to your case to advocate for the best interests of your child, it’s likely that the GAL will meet and talk with your child. Since you’ve likely spent time discouraging your child from talking to strangers, what should you tell your child to get him or her prepared for this conversation? How do you explain what a GAL is doing to a child without involving the child in a discussion about the court process? Consider the following list of Do’s and Don’ts as you get your child ready for this conversation.
- Give your child a head’s up that someone is coming to meet him or her and that it’s safe to have a conversation with that person.
- Keep your explanation of the GAL’s role simple and factual (“Mary is helping Mommy and Daddy make some decisions and wants to meet you and learn a little bit about you.”).
- Provide an age-appropriate activity for the child and GAL to do such as a board game, crayons and paper or dolls. These types of activities help make a child comfortable.
- Provide a space for a private conversation and activity. If the GAL and child are playing a board game at the kitchen table, you should go into your bedroom and close the door so that you are no part of or in earshot of the conversation.
- Remind your child to be polite and honest, and assure your child that he or she is not going to get in trouble based on things said to the GAL.
- Spring the GAL on your child without warning, especially if your child is young and afraid of strangers.
- Give your child details of the GAL’s role in litigation that overly involves the child in the legal process or overwhelms the child with information that is not age appropriate.
- Hover or linger near the GAL and child in order to hear what’s being said.
- Encourage your child to take a specific position or to make specific statements or requests to the GAL which aid your legal position. Many GALs can spot a child who has been coached, and this can end up coming back to bite you during litigation.
- Encourage your child to lie, threaten to punish, or actually punish a child for what was said to a GAL. It’s also inappropriate to interrogate a child about what was said.
Remember, a GAL is your child’s advocate and is not a tool for you to use to engineer a specific outcome in your legal case. Attempts to improperly influence the GAL investigation process can be harmful to your legal position, and are an unfair use of your child as a litigation tool.