When you are dealing with any aspect of family law, you want a team of experienced family law attorneys on your side. At Collins Family & Elder Law Group, our lawyers have decades of knowledge and hands-on experience in every aspect of family law, including adoption, child support, divorce, elder law, separation agreements, and more. In addition to our family law services, we also have a specialized, knowledgeable Guardian ad Litem on staff, Sarah Sykes.
Meet Sarah Sykes, Attorney at Law
Sarah, a graduate of Mississippi College School of Law, is passionate about family law and dedicated her summers during law school to performing Guardian ad Litem responsibilities. With this experience, Sarah gained a deeper understanding, compassion, and empathy for everyone dealing with the heartbreaking realities of family law cases, all of which she brings to every client she works with. If you are looking for a Guardian ad Litem in North Carolina, contact Collins Family & Elder Law Group and connect with Sarah.
What is a Guardian ad Litem and Their Responsibilities in North Carolina?
A Guardian ad Litem in North Carolina serves as an objective and impartial officer of the court in high-conflict custody cases. Guardians ad Litem are also appointed in cases where there are allegations of abuse or neglect. A Guardian ad Litem focuses on what is in the best interest of a minor. Guardians ad Litem build relationships with children and their families and can play a significant and beneficial role in custody cases.
The responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem include:
- Collaborating with all parties in a case
- Conducting an investigation
- Writing court reports
- Interviewing witnesses
- Remaining in constant contact with the parties, attorneys, and the court
- Speaking with providers
- Reviewing records
- Gathering resources for the child
- Testifying at hearings
- Monitoring court orders after they are implemented
Beginning an Investigation
Once appointed in a case, a Guardian ad Litem begins to reach out to the parties of the case. A Guardian ad Litem will then meet with the families and any child involved. After that, the Guardian ad Litem will reach out to any witnesses listed by the parties, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends, neighbors, or caregivers. During these calls, the Guardian ad Litem speaks with these witnesses to gain insight into their relationship with the child, behaviors they have witnessed from the child, things they have seen regarding family dynamics, and any concerns they might have.
A Guardian ad Litem will speak with providers, review medical and school records, and speak with teachers or other mentor figures if needed. A Guardian ad Litem will remain in constant contact with the parties and their attorneys and schedule additional meetings as required. As stated before, a Guardian ad Litem always keeps the best interest of the child at the forefront of their mind and recommendations.
Concluding an Investigation
After the Guardian ad Litem concludes its investigation, it will write a report based on its recommendations. This report will outline their conversations with the family, the child, and the witnesses. It will also summarize their review of records and any conversations they had with providers for the minor child. At the hearing, the Guardian ad Litem will testify about their report, and the parties and their attorneys will have the opportunity to ask the Guardian ad Litem questions based on their report. During the hearing, the judge expects to hear from the Guardian ad Litem about their investigation. The Guardian ad Litem will also have the opportunity to call any witnesses they feel are important to help gain insight into what they believe is in the best interest of the child. Additionally, during this hearing and in their report, the Guardian ad Litem can outline resources they may find important or helpful for the minor child.
Why Are Guardians ad Litem Beneficial?
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) can be an extremely beneficial resource in high-conflict custody cases. They can build relationships with children and express their wishes and needs to the court. The GAL, in any case, often holds a unique position because they represent the child’s best interests and not necessarily the child’s wishes. While the wishes expressed by the child are considered in the best interest and conveyed to the court, they can be different than what is in the child’s best interest, safe- and health-wise.
GALs offer a unique third-party perspective and are often trained on how to be unbiased advocates. As discussed, they dedicate time to speaking with an array of witnesses and providers and provide the court with a recommendation. GALs can help fill gaps in an investigation regarding what is in the best interest of a minor child. A GAL’s recommendation ultimately assists the judge in making an informed custody decision.
Common Questions Guardians ad Litem Ask
When you meet with a Guardian ad Litem, their goal is to get to know you, the details of your situation, and the relationships between you, the other parent, and your child or children. While they may ask different questions based on your unique situation, you can expect them to ask general questions about the following situations:
● Family history
● Life events pertaining to your case
● Relationship and history with the other parent
● Relationship with your child or children
● Other parent’s relationship with the child
● Information about your kids
● Current custody dispute
● Third-party information relevant to the case
If you cannot meet with your Guardian ad Litem for a full interview to discuss this information, you may be able to fill out a questionnaire to document the relevant details.
Why Do I Love Being a GAL?
Being a GAL is extremely rewarding and challenging in the best way. I enjoy developing relationships with all parties involved in these cases, including the child, parents, attorneys, providers, collateral witnesses, and the judge. I enjoy participating in a thorough investigation and assisting families in finding resources that can benefit their children. I also love writing reports and recommending to the court what I believe is in the child’s best interest. I find the unique perspective of a GAL in a custody case to be so crucial because it can make children feel as if their opinions, needs, and wants matter.
I also volunteer with the Council for Children’s rights and the Guardian ad Litem office of Mecklenburg. I attend regularly and previously participated in an intense six-week training to become a volunteer Guardian ad Litem in Mecklenburg County.
It is vital that we continue to ensure that children are placed in environments that allow them to grow and succeed, and my role as a GAL does just that.
North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Consulting
At Collins Family & Elder Law Group, we have decades of family law experience and would love to provide a consultation to show you how we can help you navigate this stage of life. Whether you need a Guardian ad Litem, are struggling with other child custody issues, or need legal assistance in any family law case, Collins Family & Elder Law Group is here for you. We would love to meet to discuss your family law needs in North Carolina.