It is always best when divorcing couples can agree on an appropriate parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children, and one which also gives each party the opportunity to spend quality time with their children.
Unfortunately, when the issues of divorce or separation come to light, it is all too common that the tensions of the parties’ situation cause high levels of strain and animosity, preventing the parties from coming to terms on an appropriate parenting plan.
When custody is contested, there are a number of different options that the parties may choose in attempting to resolve the issue of contested child custody as follows:
In some instances where the parties cannot agree, the Court may suggest the conciliation process. If parties agree to undergo this process, the court will then assign a third party neutral, who will meet with the parties and discuss various options and scenarios. If accepted by both parties, discussions of said conciliation may become the basis of a final agreement. This is a time and cost effective option, however said option may not be available in every Court.
In some instances, parties may take it upon themselves to hire an experienced mediator who acts as a third party neutral and can offer the parties guidance on acceptable options while considering the specifics of their individual situation. Like conciliation, mediation is a time and cost effective option and also allows the parties to maintain some level of integrity within their relationship, which in term allows for more effective co-parenting.
Guardian Ad Litem
When all else fails, and the parties have exhausted all avenues, the court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). The role of a GAL in cases where child custody is at issue is to act as an investigator for the court. The GAL will interview witnesses, speak with the parties, and in some cases even meet with the children in order to get a clear picture of the facts and circumstances at hand. At the end of the investigation the GAL will write a report which will be used at trial and is usually heavily relied on by the court in issuing a final order of child custody. Parties should limit the use of a GAL as a last option as such appointment of any GAL in Child Custody cases can be extremely costly to the Parties and can in some cases also cause delay in the disposition and final outcome of the case.