About a GAL Investigation

In conducting an independent investigation of the facts, if made aware, the GAL program will:

  • Review the court file of the child and known siblings to obtain all necessary pleadings;
  • Review any known Department of Children’s Services’ records;
  • Review copies of the child’s psychiatric, psychological, substance abuse, medical, school and other records relevant to the case if known;
  • Contact the lawyers for other parties for background information and for permission to interview the parties;
  • Interview the parent(s) and legal guardian(s) of the child with permission of their lawyer(s);
  • Review records of parent(s) or legal guardian(s), including, when relevant to the case, psychiatric, psychological, substance abuse, medical, criminal, and law enforcement records;
  • Contact individuals involved with the child, which may include school personnel, caseworkers, foster parents or other caretakers, neighbors, relatives, coaches, clergy, mental health professionals, physicians and other witnesses;
  • Review relevant evidence; consult with other professionals with relevant special expertise;
  • And assess the needs of the child and the available resources within the family and community to meet the child’s needs.

The following are some of the legal factors the GAL will consider during the investigation in order to make a recommendation to the Court regarding the most appropriate course of action based on objective consideration of the child’s specific needs and preferences:

  • The child’s basic physical needs, such as safety, shelter, food, clothing, and medical care;
  • the child’s emotional needs, such as nurturance, trust, affection, security, achievement, and encouragement;
  • the child’s need for family affiliation;
  • the child’s social needs; the child’s educational needs;
  • the child’s vulnerability and dependence upon others;
  • the physical, psychological, emotional, mental, and developmental effects of maltreatment upon the child; degree of risk;
  • the child’s need for stability of placement;
  • the child’s age and developmental level, including his or her sense of time;
  • the general preference of a child to live with known people, to continue normal activities, and to avoid moving;
  • whether relatives, friends, neighbors, or other people known to the child are appropriate and available as placement resources;

  • the love, affection and emotional ties existing between the child and the potential or proposed or competing caregivers; the importance of continuity in the child’s life;
  • the home, school and community record of the child; the preferences of the child;
  • the willingness and ability of the proposed or potential caretakers to facilitate and encourage close and continuing relationships between the child and other persons in the child’s life with whom the child has or desires to have a positive relationship, including siblings; and
  • in the case of visitation or custody disputes between parents, the list of factors set forth in 36-6-106, which states the following:

[Any court] proceeding requiring the court to make a custody determination regarding a minor child, the determination shall be made on the basis of the best interest of the child. In taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child consistent with the factors set out in subdivisions (a)(1)-(10), the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability and all other relevant factors. The court shall consider all relevant factors, including the following, where applicable:

(1) The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents or caregivers and the child;

(2) The disposition of the parents or caregivers to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent or caregiver has been the primary caregiver;

(3) The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment; provided, that, where there is a finding, under subdivision (a)(8), of child abuse, as defined in § 39-15-401 or § 39-15-402, or child sexual abuse, as defined in § 37-1-602, by one (1) parent, and that a nonperpetrating parent or caregiver has relocated in order to flee the perpetrating parent, that the relocation shall not weigh against an award of custody;

(4) The stability of the family unit of the parents or caregivers;

(5) The mental and physical health of the parents or caregivers;

(6) The home, school and community record of the child;

(7) (A) The reasonable preference of the child, if twelve (12) years of age or older; (B) The court may hear the preference of a younger child on request. The preferences of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children;

(8) Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person; provided, that, where there are allegations that one (1) parent has committed child abuse, as defined in § 39-15-401 or § 39-15-402, or child sexual abuse, as defined in § 37-1-602, against a family member, the court shall consider all evidence relevant to the physical and emotional safety of the child, and determine, by a clear preponderance of the evidence, whether such abuse has occurred. The court shall include in its decision a written finding of all evidence, and all findings of facts connected to the evidence. In addition, the court shall, where appropriate, refer any issues of abuse to the juvenile court for further proceedings;

(9) The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent or caregiver and the person’s interactions with the child; and

(10) Each parent’s or caregiver’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each of the parents and caregivers to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both of the child’s parents, consistent with the best interest of the child.

After an initial determination of custody and/or visitation has been determined, a party must prove that there has been a material change in circumstances in the home in which the child resides and then determine what is in the best interest of the child before subsequent changes may occur.