Guardians ad Litem in NH Divorce, Parenting and Modification Cases
“The guardian ad litem is the voice of the children and his role is important because the children themselves, absent a court order, do not testify at any hearing”
child(ren)’s upbringing; substance abuse, alienation, an unsafe parenting environment, verbal and emotional abuse, the living preferences of a mature minor, etc. In these cases it is common for a Guardian ad Litem to be appointed. While skilled New Hampshire divorce lawyers and family law attorneys regularly interact with guardians ad litem, self-represented parties do not. Self-represented parties are often unclear on the guardian ad litem and his/her role in their divorce, parenting or modification case. This blog post will answer some basic questions many self represented parties have regarding guardians ad litem.
What is a Guardian ad Litem in a New Hampshire Divorce, Parenting and Modification Case?
A guardian ad litem is an individual who is brought into a New Hampshire divorce, parenting or modification case to represent the parties’ child(ren). The guardian ad litem is not a lawyer for the child(ren), but is a party to the case and appears at court hearings on behalf of the child(ren). In essence, the guardian ad litem is the “voice” of the children and his/her role is important because the children themselves, absent a court order, do not testify at any hearing.
Guardians ad litem are trained and certified by the New Hampshire Guardian ad Litem Certification Board. There is no requirement that a guardian ad litem be an attorney. In fact, many guardians ad litem are not attorneys.
How does a Guardian ad Litem become a party to a divorce, parenting or modification case in New Hampshire?
Guardians ad litem become a party to a case at the request of either party or the family division court. The family division court is not required to appoint a guardian ad litem even if one party requests one. A guardian ad litem is typically appointed when the family division court needs to know more facts about an important parenting issue in dispute. A party can request that a particular guardian ad litem be appointed, but the family division court has the final say.
The parties are notified that a guardian ad litem has been appointed when they receive an order on appointment of guardian ad litem in the mail from the family division court. The order on appointment of guardian ad litem lists the name and contact information for the guardian ad litem. It also lists the issues the family division court is asking the guardian ad litem to investigate and make recommendations on. Common issues to be investigated include:
- decision-making responsibilities;
- residential responsibilities;
- parenting time;
- special needs of the child(ren);
- counseling for either party or the child(ren);
- psychological evaluations for either party or the child(ren);
- parenting skills of either party;
- appropriateness of the either party’s home environment;
- substance abuse by either party or the child(ren);
- violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse;
- sexual abuse;
- supervision of parenting time;
- rights of grandparents to visit;
- influence of companions of either party on the child(ren);
- maturity of child(ren) stating a preference;
- travel arrangements;
- time, place and manner of exchange for parenting time;
- assessment of bond between each party and the child(ren) or siblings;
- other issues the GAL deems relevant based upon his/her investigation.
The 0rder on appointment of guardian ad litem also lists each party’s financial responsibility, assessed as a %, for the guardian ad litem’s work. Guardians ad litem typically charge $60.00 per hour and receive $1,000.00 from the parties in the % expressed in the order. It is very common for guardians ad litem to exceed $1,000.00 and ask the family division court for an additional $1,000.00 from the parties.
What does the Guardian ad Litem do in NH Divorce, Parenting or Modification case?
The guardian ad litem first sends the parties a stipulation (agreement) for them to sign and return. The stipulation is the terms under which the guardian ad litem will represent the child(ren) in the case. In the stipulation, the guardian ad litem details his/her hourly rate, the amount owed by each party (as indicated in the order on appointment of guardian ad litem), and reminds the parties that his/her written reports are confidential and should not be shared with third parties.
After the parties return the stipulation to the guardian ad litem, s/he sends them each a questionnaire. The questionnaire contains questions relevant to the issue the family division court asked the guardian ad litem to investigate. It typically also asks for the names and contact information for references. Finally, the guardian ad litem includes authorizations to release records for medical, educational, or other institutions that may have relevant information.
After the parties return the questionnaire, the guardian ad litem visits the child(ren) at both parties’ residences. The guardian ad litem interviews the child(ren) and both parties, and may contact the references each party listed on the questionnaire. The guardian ad litem reviews any documents s/he requested.
After the guardian ad litem has completed his/her investigation, s/he writes a final report and makes written recommendations on the issues raised by the family division court in its order on appointment of guardian ad litem. The final report and recommendations are sent to both parties and the family division court. The final report is confidential and cannot be shared with third parties.
One, or both, of the parties is almost invariably unhappy with the guardian ad litem’s recommendations. Both parties can review the guardian ad litem’s file in order to determine on what information s/he relied in making his/her recommendations. Both parties thereafter can question the guardian ad litem at the final hearing on the issues in dispute.
Contact Us if you are having issues with the guardian ad litem in your divorce, parenting or modification case
We are experienced divorce attorneys and family law lawyers in Portsmouth and Dover New Hampshire. We regularly interact with guardians ad litem and can help you put your best foot forward in your divorce, parenting or modification case. Read our client testimonials and learn why many of our clients consider us to be the best divorce and child custody lawyers in Portsmouth and Dover, New Hampshire.