June 1, 2023
Sometimes parents need some extra help when going through a divorce. That help can be in the form of independent psychological evaluations to determine the fitness of a parent to take care of the children or just extra support to create and carry out parenting schedules. The statutes provide for two types of professionals to help move the parents to work in the children’s best interests. One is a guardian ad litem, and the other is a social investigator. While there isn’t much difference between the two professionals, the job descriptions differ.
You should understand the difference between a guardian ad litem vs. a social investigator and how either could affect your custody. For help with any issues involving child custody or your divorce, you need to speak with an experienced St. Petersburg divorce attorney as soon as possible.
Guardian ad Litem
A guardian ad litem can investigate domestic violence cases and other family court issues. When one or both parents cannot or will not advocate for the child’s best interests, the court may assign a guardian ad litem. This person usually provides insight into the child’s wants and needs but must always act in the child’s best interest.
It could be as complicated as determining whether a parent should forfeit visitation that day because of drug or alcohol use or something as minor as ensuring the child has a nutritious meal that day – even if the child wants junk food for dinner.
Powers of a Guardian ad Litem
If one or both parents include allegations against the other in their pleadings, the court may order a guardian ad litem to investigate the case.
A guardian ad litem may:
- Interview the child
- Interview witnesses
- Petition the court for permission to inspect medical and psychological records for the parents or the minor child
- Petition the court to have experts examine the parents, the child, and any interested parties. Experts include mental health professionals, medical doctors, vision and dental professionals, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
- Work with the court to obtain an expert examination from impartial professionals
- Make oral or written recommendations to the court
- File pleadings in the case on behalf of the child to request relief
- Submit recommendations regarding agreements and stipulations to the court
The guardian ad litem, who is not an attorney, should have legal representation to help file pleadings in the court.
Because of the sensitive nature of the guardian ad litem’s reports, the guardian must keep all information confidential. The guardian can disclose the information in a report to the court but must also serve both parties in the action. If the parties have counsel, the guardian ad litem can serve the parties through counsel.
A social investigator must be a qualified mental health professional. This person investigates any details relating to each parent and the children. Courts often use social investigators when a divorce includes complex issues – a social investigator can give the Court insight into the inner workings of a family unit, especially in custody battles where the parents are accusing each other of behaviors that are not in the children’s best interests.
Powers of a Social Investigator
A social investigator may:
- Conduct a study to help the court determine custody and visitation issues when the parenting plan is at issue
- Submit a report regarding parenting issues to the court so that the court can make an informed decision on the parenting plan
Who Pays for Social Investigations?
The parents pay for any social investigations and home studies. In some cases, the parents might split the costs evenly. In other cases, the attorneys might request that the parents pay a percentage of the cost based on the Child Support Guidelines. For example, if Parent A pays 60 percent of the child support and Parent B pays 40 percent, Parent A pays 60 percent of any social investigations and home studies.
Sometimes, when one parent requests investigations, that parent might agree to pay for the full cost of social investigations.
When a Court or an Attorney is Most Likely to Request a Guardian ad Litem or Social Investigator
A Court will often agree to an attorney’s request for a psychological evaluation or home study / social investigation when one parent makes serious allegations about the other or if one parent accuses the other of domestic violence.
Allegations could include:
- A parent abuses drugs, alcohol, or both
- Domestic violence involving the other parent, the child, or both
- Mental health issues
- Refusing to take prescription drugs for mental health issues
- A parent has been arrested
- A parent is at risk of being imprisoned or a repeat offender
- Accusations of neglect
- Fear of the other parent absconding with the child, whether to another city, county, state, or country
- Parental alienation
- Battling over time-sharing
- Non-payment of child support
- Refusing to follow an existing parenting plan
A court does not have to order a social investigation. One party could request the investigation, and both parties could agree to it, or when the parents cannot agree on time-sharing, the court can order the parents to undergo a social investigation.
A social investigator interviews the children, parents, and any adult involved in a parenting role with the children. The investigator may also interview character references that each parent submits. The investigation includes home visits (home studies) and background checks. The information the social investigator finds is often a big help when the court must make the decisions the parents cannot. Sometimes, a parent might use a social investigation to prove the other parent’s harmful behavior.
If you are ready to file for divorce, your spouse served you with divorce papers, have trouble with your spouse agreeing to time-share, or worry about your spouse interacting with your children, contact a family law attorney for a consultation.