Who should decide where you children live? Seems like an easy question, but if you are divorced, going through a divorce, or separated from the other parent of your children, that question may become more complicated. Other questions such as where your kids go to school, attend church and where they spend the holidays are all perplexing when parents can’t agree. It’s in those situations that a court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to investigate and make recommendations.
In Domestic Relations Courts in Ohio, a GAL is typically an attorney appointed to represent the best interests of children. The GAL is funded by a monetary deposit by one or both parents and works to investigate and report to the court what parenting situation is in the “best interests” of the children.
If you find yourself in a situation such as this, there are some things to remember and do to help you and your children adjust to their new life.
First, set aside any hate, disgust, distrust or other animosity you may have for the other parent. Focus on your children and their needs. Having a GAL does not mean that either person is a bad parent. It just means that both parents need some help in finding what is in their children’s best interests. In many cases parents have focused so long on their failing marriage that they have lost sight of their children. This is the opportunity to adjust the vision.
Second, try to come up with a solution by communicating with the other parent. In spite of the difficulty in working with the person on the other side of the adversarial fence, the best people to make a decision for their children’s future are the parents. That may sound idealistic – particularly in a divorce situation – but it’s probably the best advice I have heard and given in almost 20 years of serving as a GAL.
Third, tell the truth. A GAL understands that each party has their own interpretation of the situation. In fact, in most cases when I ask how the marriage fell apart, the same factual scenario is reported; it’s just the interpretation that is wildly different. Often included in those interpretations is speculation on what the other party may have intended or done. It is important not to exaggerate problems with the other person’s home and parenting; tell what you know and go no further.
Finally, be introspective enough to look beyond your issues with the other person to find what is best for your kids. It may seem that moving across the country is in your children’s best interests because it allows you to have a job promotion but it may not be in the best interests of the children regarding their relationship with your ex-spouse.
Ultimately remember that your goal and the GAL’s goal should be the same: the best interests of the children. Hopefully both parents can listen to the GAL recommendations and find a resolution. If not, the court will order a parenting agreement and most likely base that decision upon the GAL’s recommendation.
Monthly Diary of a Dad writer, Matthew Reger of Bowling Green, Ohio, has been a practicing attorney since 1993 and is licensed in Ohio and Michigan. In addition to his work as the Bowling Green Municipal Prosecutor, he has handled many other legal matters as an attorney, including GAL cases, since 1996. For more information on a Guardian Ad Litem, visit ohiobar.org.