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FAMILY LAW 53: The trial court erred by treating the parties’ GAL as an LGAL and denying the parties the right to question her at a hearing; however, the trial court did not err in requiring the parties to compensate the GAL for her services.

Plaintiff and Defendant were never married, but share a young son who was born in 2016. The parties have battled over custody, child support, and other parenting issues ever since. In the spring of 2019, the parties filed competing motions to modify the parenting-time schedule and custody arrangement.  After hearing, the court appointed a Guardian Ad Litem (G.A.L.) for minor child. The court ordered that the parties would be “equally responsible for the fees and costs of the G.A.L. On the record, the GAL identified herself as the guardian ad litem. Frost appeared at the August 8, 2019 custody hearing and again identified herself as the child’s “Guardian ad Litem.”  In between the evidentiary and follow-up hearings, the GAL sought payment for her services as an LGAL. She asserted that she had “performed the services requested by the Court” and had submitted her bill to the parties through their attorneys. However, neither party had paid.  

ANALYSIS

On appeal, Defendant contends that the trial court incorrectly treated the GAL as an LGAL rather than a GAL. This is true.  A court speaks through its written orders and judgments, not through its oral pronouncements.  The court clearly appointed the GAL to serve as GAL, not LGAL, in its May 21, 2019 order. If the court erred and actually intended GAL to serve as LGAL, the court needed to enter a corrected order. The court did not do so and therefore she remained a GAL. But does this error require relief? In a child custody proceeding, a GAL is an individual whom the court appoints to assist the court in determining the child’s best interests. A [GAL] does not need to be an attorney. An LGAL is an attorney appointed under section 4. A [LGAL] represents the child, and has the powers and duties, as set forth in section 4 Contrary to Defendant’s contention,  she met the obligations of a GAL.  She attended every required court hearing. She assisted the court in assessing NB’s best interests as required by MCL 722.22(g). She authored a report and filed it with the court. Ultimately, she spoke to both parties and Defendant’s therapist, reviewed a recent custody evaluation, and considered evidence presented by the parties, such as “videos” presented by the parties. She thereby assessed the concerns raised in the court’s order. And as such, she was entitled to payment for the services actually completed as a GAL.

CONCLUSION

Although the GAL fulfilled her role, the court interfered with Defendant’s right to examine her and to thereby controvert her report by denying his request to call her  to the stand. While she is an attorney by trade, she was not serving as an attorney or an LGAL in this case. The parties may call her to the stand in her capacity as GAL. The parties will be permitted to question her as the GAL regarding her report. We affirm that portion of the September 20, 2019 order requiring the parties to compensate her for her services to date.

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