The Appointment Of A Guardian Ad Litem In Tennessee Divorce Cases

With the pending divorce of one of the most high profile billionaire couples in the hedge fund industry, Ken and Ann Griffin, splashed across financial publications this past summer, many foresaw the financial battle to come over the Guardian Ad Litemvast fortune amassed. However, few outside the legal community understand why a guardian ad litem was selected by a judge to represent the couple’s three children since no neglect or abuse has been alleged.

What Is A Guardian Ad Litem?

Most people are familiar with the word guardian as in someone legally responsible for another, with authority to make decisions for said person who, for one reason or another, is unable to care for and make decisions for him or herself. But a guardian ad litem is quite different. A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person the court appoints to represent the best interests of a child in a divorce or parental rights and responsibilities case. This is not a family member or close friend, but rather a completely neutral third party attorney tasked with investigating the circumstances of the family law case for which he or she was appointed and then making recommendations to the court.

Different Guidelines Of Court Appointed GALs

In Tennessee there are two types of guidelines under which a guardian ad litem is appointed as laid out by the State Supreme Court.  The first is Supreme Court Rule 40 which sets forth the obligations of lawyers appointed to represent children only in juvenile court neglect, abuse and dependency proceedings pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-1-149. In determining the best interest of the child the GAL is to consider the following factors:

  •  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 and educational needs
  • the child’s vulnerability and dependence upon others
  • the physical, psychological, emotional, mental, and developmental effects of maltreatment upon the child
  • 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 second guideline is found under Supreme Court Rule 40A which lays out a guardian ad litem’s role in a custody proceeding for cases other than abuse or neglect in which legal or physical custody of, access to, or visitation with a child is at issue. In addition, the Court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem in cases in which litigation has been lengthy and/or hotly contested.

If you are in the process of divorce and think your child or children need a guardian ad litem appointed them for the aforementioned reasons contact attorney Donna Wagner today and schedule a consultation.

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