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What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Nebraska Child Custody Cases?

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Are You a Nebraska Parent Divorcing or Anticipating Divorce?

If you are divorcing your child’s other parent in Nebraska, or if subsequent to your divorce in this state, you become involved in a child custody dispute with your child’s other parent, you should be advised and represented by a Lincoln child custody attorney.

In Nebraska, when parents who are divorcing cannot agree to a custody arrangement, a judge will decide which parent is awarded custody. When making that decision, a judge will take into account factors that include but are not limited to:

  1. each parent’s parental fitness and history with the child
  2.  either parent’s history of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, or drug abuse
  3.  whether either parent has made false allegations
  4.  whether there are siblings and the current location of those siblings
  5. the child’s expressed preference regarding his or her custody (Note that in Nebraska only adults (age 19 years and older) have say in where and with whom they live. Children in custody matters may be given input through a guardian ad litem or sometimes, speaking to the judge, but they are never allowed to choose custody arrangements.)

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

When a child’s custody is in dispute, or if there is a dispute over visitations, the court may assign an attorney to be a guardian ad litem – to help the court gather information and determine what is in the child’s best interests. The guardian ad litem is NOT an attorney for the child (that is a separate role). The guardian ad litem may or may not be treated like an expert witness (also a separate role). Typically both parents are ordered to pay the fees of the guardian ad litem at their attorney hourly rate. A guardian ad litem may conduct:

  1.  visits to both homes
  2. personal, individual interviews with each parent and the child
  3. interviews with other household and family members, teachers, and neighbors
  4. psychological tests of the parents and child

Typically, a guardian ad litem is a family law attorney. You and your Lincoln child custody lawyer may ask the court to name a guardian ad litem at any point in the custody proceedings if you believe that the conclusions of a neutral observer would be helpful. Courts sometimes appoint a guardian ad litem to help in very high conflict situations. 

When Should You Request a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem gathers information for the court, but his or her most important role in a child custody proceeding is making recommendations as to what is in the child’s best interests. The final decision always remains with the judge in your custody case. In any of the following circumstances, you may want to speak with your Lincoln child custody attorney about asking the court to name a guardian ad litem:

  1.  You and your spouse are making serious claims against one another regarding parenting.
  2.  You have concerns regarding your child’s safety during your spouse’s visitations.
  3.  You want your child’s wishes to be heard, but you don’t want the child to testify in court.
  4.  Your spouse is abusive towards your child or has addiction issues.

Either parent in a child custody dispute may ask the court to designate a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem does not act as the child’s attorney. Instead, a guardian ad litem advocates for their determination of a child’s best interests as an investigator, evaluator, and fact-finder for the court. Note that the responsibilities of a guardian ad litem for children may differ depending on which court appoints them (District Court, Separate Juvenile, Guardianship/Probate court).

What Are a Guardian Ad Litem’s Responsibilities?

A guardian ad litem’s role is to spend time with your child, observe the child’s environment, and make a recommendation to the court regarding which parent should be awarded custody. Your child may express his or her wishes regarding custody to the guardian ad litem in certain circumstances.

Specifically, a guardian ad litem works to determine which custody arrangement and parenting time schedule would be in the child’s best interests. A guardian ad litem may review your child’s medical and school records and may also interview those close to the child to get a complete picture of the child’s environment, surroundings, and daily routine.

Finally, a guardian ad litem will prepare for the court a report with his or her observations and conclusions. The report may include statements made by the child, parents, and relatives, and it should explain how the guardian ad litem arrived at his or her recommendation.

What is the Court’s Priority?

In any child custody proceeding, the court’s highest priority is the child’s best interests. The interests of the parents, if those interests are not lined up with the child’s, are secondary. But from the start of the process, divorcing parents both have a right to seek custody.

While many people still feel that the courts favor mothers in custody disputes, that assumption is out of date. In fact, fathers who seek to be custodial parents now prevail in about half of all child custody disputes. Nebraska law gives legal parents, whether fathers or mothers, absolutely equal legal rights.

How Will a Family Law Attorney Help You?

In Lancaster County and adjacent Nebraska counties, if you are fighting for your child’s custody during or after your divorce, you must be advised and represented by an experienced Lincoln child custody lawyer.

Whenever it is possible, parents who are divorcing should agree on a child custody and visitation arrangement that enriches the child’s relationships with both parents. Your child custody attorney can help you work out such an agreement.

However, if no compromise on the custody question is possible, a Nebraska judge will make the custody decision based on what that judge believes is in the child’s best interests.

Can a Child Custody Arrangement Be Changed?

A child custody arrangement may be modified at any time if a good enough reason is presented to the court. However, when a parent asks for a modification of the court’s custody order, the parent must demonstrate to the court that changing circumstances necessitate the modification. This is a very high standard to meet and requires a change in circumstances that was not able to be known at the time the original order was entered (i.e., kids getting older or starting high school is a known change unlikely to be enough on its own).

If either parent requests a permanent change or modification to an existing custody order, a new matter must be filed with the Court, and each parent will again need the advice and services of a Nebraska family law attorney. A custody order may be modified for several reasons, including but not limited to:

  1. One parent has or is planning to relocate.
  2. One parent changes jobs, becomes unemployed, or becomes incapacitated.
  3. One parent receives a criminal conviction and must serve time in jail or prison.

Meet Attorney Vanessa J. Gorden

When attorney Vanessa J. Gorden and GordenLaw represent you in a divorce or child custody proceeding, we explain each step in the process, protect your interests, advise you on how to handle situations, and litigate aggressively when required.

Attorney Vanessa J. Gorden represents divorcing parents in divorce and child custody cases throughout Lancaster County and greater Nebraska. She provides candid legal advice, effective representation, and excellent client service.

Attorney Gorden understands that nothing is more important to you than your child(ren) or your relationship with them. If you are divorcing or otherwise dealing with disputed child custody, call GordenLaw now at 402-817-1450 to learn more or to schedule a legal strategy session.

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