I am in the middle of a contentious divorce in which the custody of our four children, ranging in age from 7 to 17, is among the issues. My lawyer suggested we try mediation — we did so unsuccessfully. My wife refused to agree to a schedule and wants to continue to operate week to week, sharing our children as she sees fit (meaning what is most convenient to her regardless of the needs of our kids or my work travel schedule). She dictates the weekly schedule each Sunday evening.
When we initially went to court asking for a parenting plan, the judge decided not to make an order and instead appointed a guardian ad litem. I am meeting with the guardian in two weeks. My lawyer wants to spend several hours with me before the guardian meeting. I have taken so much time off from work lately I can’t afford to take more time. I just can’t understand why I have to meet with him before the guardian meeting if I didn’t have to do the same thing before the mediation. Wasn’t the mediation more important? This is just an interview.
Your lawyer is correct here. You should not walk into the GAL interview — and make no mistake, it is an interview — unprepared.
Mediation is a confidential process that you and your wife entered into voluntarily. Your lawyers were by your side and could kick you under the table if necessary. The idea with mediation is to reach an agreement everyone can live with. The mediator is not judging you and will never tell a judge what you or your wife offered or said during the sessions.
A guardian ad litem is, in essence, the court’s expert on custody. That person is going to meet with you and take detailed notes on everything you say. The GAL will then do the same when meeting with your wife, your children and talking to collaterals, such as your children’s teachers, coaches, doctors and family friends. All of the information in those GAL notes will be summarized and put into a GAL report that is filed with the court. If you cannot reach an agreement on parenting, the judge deciding the issue will read the report, whether it be during a further motion session or in connection with a trial.
Your lawyer presumably has had many clients go through a GAL interview and can tell you what to expect, the kinds of things to avoid saying and the kinds of information that would be most helpful to show the GAL, and ultimately the judge, which parent is better able to parent the children and why. Meet with your lawyer beforehand. If you are truly worried about the risk to your job by taking additional time off, ask your lawyer to meet some evening, before work or on a weekend. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Wendy O. Hickey has since 1994 been involved in and since 2003 been a trial lawyer who concentrates her practice on national and international family law. Any legal advice in this column is general in nature, and does not establish a lawyer-client relationship. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.