What Is a Guardian ad Litem? Understanding Guardian ad Litem in NM

Family Law

In the 2000 United States Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, which is currently the leading case on the nature of parental rights, the highest Court of the land confirmed that our God-given right to direct the care and upbringing of our children is among our fundamental liberty interests. In our public lives, various faiths, cultures, and extended families, we want to regard a parent's office with particular esteem as well.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (505) 544-5126.

Parenting & Family Law Cases

As parents ourselves, we expect our authority to be respected and protected and we extend the same respect to others. At our firm, we feel no less passionately about your fundamental parental rights. Of course, we would also like to believe that the family court would be especially sensitive to fundamental interests at stake. Like anything else, it depends on who you ask, but I wouldn't take any chances. Those fundamental, "constitutional," high-minded legal arguments and discussions happen at the appellate or, we can hope, at the legislative levels.

At your average District Court custody hearing, you need to be much more focused on the particular details of your case. On the basest level, when you wade into the litigation process to resolve custody issues that you and the other parent cannot resolve on your own, you are mutually exchanging your joint authority to make the custodial decision for a chance to argue your position before the tribunal, here, the family court. You are both giving your authority over to someone else and then arguing why they should do what you want and not what the other parent wants. At this point, you need to be sure you know what you're doing and have a plan.

When preparing for this type of litigation, especially if both sides have attorneys competently doing their jobs, the arguments and evidence quickly add up. Typically both sides start realizing that there's a whole lot more that they want the judge to hear. What might have started as a one-hour hearing starts shaping up to be a full day trial on the merits some time down the road. Because family issues are so emotionally charged and difficult to prove, judges often end up with more questions than answers.

Understanding Guardian ad Litem Cases

In high conflict custody cases, after hearing evidence from both sides, judges often conclude that they need even more evidence to make an informed decision about what is best for your kids. This is when the judges typically engage some form of evaluative process to obtain reliable, objective information, allowing them to make an informed decision. The judge has several options available to obtain input from an unbiased third-party professional.

Among the options available to the judge is the Guardian ad Litem, or commonly referred to as "GAL." There are several forms of GAL's in-law: related to Domestic Matters, probate cases involving minors, CYFD Abuse and Neglect cases, etc. Here we are discussing only the role of GAL in New Mexico Domestic Matters custody disputes.

GAL's are attorneys, and if a GAL is appointed in your case, then that GAL should be more or less considered the children's attorney. But the GAL is not an advocate for the children's objectives like the parent's lawyer is. The GAL acts as a "friend to the Court" and is appointed to investigate the case.

Under the New Mexico Rules of Civil Procedure, the investigation consists of, at minimum, meeting with the children face to face outside of the presence of both parents and conducting a home visit with the children at each parent's home. The standard Order Appointing GAL also contains many other provisions related to having access to school records and medical/mental/behavioral service providers and broad immunity from lawsuit for the GAL in the commission of his or her duties as a friend to the Court. After the investigation, the GAL provides the parents and their attorneys with a written report of the investigation and formal recommendations as to what decision will be best for your children.

After a brief discussion period, the Recommendations are filed with the Court, and if no one files Objections, the Recommendations will be adopted as an Order of the Court. This rarely happens because if one parent likes the recommendations, that almost always means that the other parent does not. Somebody always objects to the GAL's recommendations because they invariably favor one parent's desires over the other, and the other parent will not like it.

The Recommendations usually come as a shock to at least one of the parents. Initially, most parents like the idea of appointing a GAL because it is usually a quicker path to resolution than waiting for the Court to hear your issues (where answers lead to more questions anyway). And most parents believe that the "rightness" of their position is so obvious that any objective outsider will immediately see what a horrible parent the other parent is.

Here is the risk: most everyone else in the world doesn't see the other parent the way you do or know them the way you do. The other parent and their lawyer are also trying to convince the world that you are a horrible person/parent.

Another common pitfall is that you think you know what your children will tell the GAL, but it turns out you are mistaken. Parents often do not realize the pressure they put on their children when there is a conflict with the other parent. Often, children make false or exaggerated statements to one or both parents about the other parent to keep their world peaceful or maybe gain a parent's acceptance. This is one of the most difficult shortcomings for parents to acknowledge, and they fiercely deny doing it. Still, wouldn't you rather understand how you can help your case in every possible regard, even if the advice is unpleasant? Remember that your lawyer is working for you and sometimes has to tell you things you don't want to hear. If you are moving forward with a GAL, you need to understand and control that GAL's impression of you as early as possible. And this is where having an experienced, local family law attorney like our attorneys at Sandia Family Law., will prove invaluable.

How Sandia Family Law, Can Help You with Your GAL Case

We know and have worked with a majority of GAL's throughout the state of New Mexico. Particularly in the Albuquerque area, we can help you from the earliest point of selecting and recommending the GAL that would be the best fit for you and your children. Trust us when we say that not all GAL's are created alike and vary greatly in their approaches to conducting investigations and referring to sources, and adherence to timelines.

We know that some GAL's are a better match for certain cases or personalities than others, and we know who those GAL's are. Simply getting the right GAL in the first place can make all the difference to your case, so it's never too early for us to help you understand the geography you are navigating to reach your objectives. Planning does not necessarily make perfect, but it does increase the likelihood of success.

At Sandia Family Law, we work with clients throughout New Mexico to represent their rights and best interests in and out of court during GAL cases.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (505) 544-5126.

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