Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Do I Need a Guardian ad Litem or Custody Investigation? 

When parents decide to end their marriage or relationship, the children become a central focus of the negotiation.  The parents must decide how the children will be cared for and supported while living in two different households.  These decisions include recognizing that each of them cannot spend as much time with the children as they had become accustomed to and face significant impacts to their cash flow.


If the parents cannot agree on the custody arrangements for the children, then a court will ultimately decide which parent should make decisions for the children and how the parents will share time.


Depending on the county where your case is pending, you may have various options to provide information to the Court about your wishes and the needs of the children.  The two most common are the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem and Custody Investigation.  While neither are necessary in a custody case, both can provide valuable gain insights to the Court that would not otherwise be possible through the parents individual testimony.


The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney specifically trained to represent the child or children’s best interests.  The GAL does not advocate for the children’s wishes but rather what the GAL determines to be in the children’s best interest.  The GAL will be a very active participant in your case.  He or she will meet with your children and interview other people that come in contact with them and can provide information about the family dynamics.   The GAL is required to prepare a written report with recommendations regarding the custody and parenting time of the children.  Additionally, the GAL will attend court proceedings and can file motions and question witnesses.  The cost of a GAL is usually billed hourly with a deposit being required upfront.  These costs vary depending on county and GAL appointed.  It can be hard to accurately estimate the total cost of the GAL he or she will bill their time depending on the needs of the case.


A custody investigation is completed by a mental health professional either employed by the court, if they are on staff, or hired privately.  These professionals are engaged for the specific purpose of providing a recommendation to the court after interviewing the family and children.  This person cannot be engaged for therapeutic services.  Custody investigators may also complete psychological testing if deemed necessary.  The custody investigator will be called as an expert witness at a trial and will not be involved in any other capacity.  The cost of a custody investigator varies greatly depending on whether the court provides this service (usually a flat fee of $500 – $800) or private retainers in the range of $3000 – $5000.


The decision to request a GAL or custody investigation depends on a full examination of the case.  It is a strategic decision that should not be taken lightly because the resulting recommendation carries great weight in the ultimate decision being made by a Court. You should discuss your concerns and hopes with your attorney to decide whether a GAL or custody investigation is warranted and could be helpful in your case.