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Guardian Ad Litem

Appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem

Whenever there is a dispute between parents over a child's custody, the family court appoints a guardian ad litem to become involved in the case. In South Carolina, a guardian ad litem (Guardian or GAL) is a formal advocate for a child involved in a court proceeding such as family court. Although the guardian generally is appointed in the beginning of a case, the court can appoint a guardian any time in the legal proceeding when the best interests of the children are at issue.

The Guardian's Role

The guardian ad litem is required to impartially investigate matters concerning the child and to communicate to the court about a child's welfare and about what would be in the child's best interest. The GAL should investigate all issues surrounding or affecting the child(ren).

Investigation by the Guardian  

In the investigation, the GAL interviews the parties in the case, reviews the paperwork filed with the court (the pleadings), visits the child’s home or proposed home, interviews the child, and interviews other witnesses. The GAL may also review relevant records, such as school, medical, or mental health records. The GAL may ask other experts, such as a social worker or a psychologist, to provide input and possible future testimony regarding the case. If there are problems with alcohol or drugs, the GAL may ask the judge to order a parent to have screening tests.

Recommendations by the Guardian

In investigating and developing input for the court’s consideration, the GAL and the court should consider the child’s wishes, the wishes of both parents, the child’s interaction and relationship with family members, the child’s adjustment to home, school, religion, and community, the child’s age and developmental and educational needs at various ages, the mental or physical health of a parent, the child, or other person living in the proposed custodial household, the cooperation and the communication between parents and whether either one unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other, a parent’s likelihood to interfere in the other parent’s continuing relationship with the child, any physical abuse or problems with alcohol or drugs, and other significant factors that would affect the child’s well-being.

The Guardian's Report 

After the investigation, the GAL will give the parents and their attorneys a preliminary summary report of what the GAL will present to the judge. Later, the report could change depending on additional evidence or facts that are uncovered. Afterwards, If the parents cannot agree as to how to settle their dispute, the case is prepared for trial before the judge, who will make the final decision.

The Guardian’s Fees 

The judge decides who pays for the GAL’s services. Oftentimes, each parent is responsible for one-half of the GAL’s total costs, including the GAL’s time and investigation costs, such as tests and experts. The court also may require the parents to pay an initial deposit and periodic payments to the GAL during the case.


Cynthia K. Mason assists clients throughout Richland County, Lexington County, Fairfield County, Greenville County, Newberry County, Calhoun County, Kershaw County, Aiken County and Sumter SC.

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