Guardian ad Litem or Social Investigator-What’s the Difference?By DADvocacy™ | June 18, 2015
If your case involves a lot of animosity or contention between the parties; if there are allegations of mental health problems against either party; if there are accusations of mental, physical, or sexual abuse of the child; or if there are issues with regard to the environment in which the child lives in or visits either party, you may need a social investigator or guardian ad litem to enter your case and provide an assessment and make recommendations to the court. These two types of professionals do serve similar functions, but there are some key distinctions of which you should be aware.
A social investigator may be appointed by the court under Florida Statutes 61.20 when the parenting plan is at issue because the parents are unable to agree. The investigator shall furnish the court with a written study containing facts and recommendations, which the court may consider when making a decision on the parenting plan. The court does not have to find that it is in the best interest of the child to appoint an investigator. The investigator has no duty to the child, and is not required to act in the best interest of the child. The investigator does not become a party to the case, and has no powers or privileges to assist the court to make a determination as to the best interest of the child. The social investigator is often a mental health professional. A social investigator may be the proper professional to come in to your case when the issues involved are relatively simple and the court needs guidance as to which way to rule. A social investigator is generally less expensive than a guardian ad litem.
A guardian ad litem (“GAL”) may be appointed by the court under Florida Statutes 61.401 if it is in the best interest of the child to do so. The GAL becomes a party to the case until discharged by the court. At all times, the GAL is required to act in the best interest of the child, and possesses the requisite powers, privileges and responsibilities to the extent necessary to advance the best interest of the child. The GAL has a broad range of powers designed to assist the court in making a determination as to the best interest of the child. The GAL may investigate allegations made in pleadings affecting the child; may interview the child, witnesses, or any other person having information concerning the welfare of the child; may petition the court for an order allowing the GAL to inspect and copy records related to the minor child or the parents or the household members; may request the court to order expert examinations of the child, the parents, or other interested parties; may address the court and make written or oral recommendations to the court; must be provided with copies of all pleadings, notices, and other documents; is entitled to reasonable notice before any action affecting the is taken; and may file pleadings, motions, or petitions for relief as deemed necessary in furtherance of the GAL’s function.
Generally, the GAL is an attorney, which brings an inherent understanding of the law and of the burdens of proof to the table. The GAL is generally more expensive than the social investigator, but also comes with much more power, and remains in the case until discharged by the court.
The social investigator assesses the past and present circumstances of the parties and the child, but exercises a passive role as that of an observer and reporter. The GAL takes a place at the table and becomes an active participant in litigation and in the parties’ lives; meeting with relevant parties under the authority of a court order, making recommendations to the attorneys and to the court and working toward resolution that is in the best interest of the child.
This information is based on Florida law and is targeted toward a Florida audience. If you feel you may need a GAL or social investigator to provide insight in your case, call DADvocacy today at (305) 371-7640 to set up a free consultation with one of our child support attorneys in Miami.