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SLOAN COLUMN: S.C. GAL: ‘A Voice For The Child’

on Tuesday, 05 July 2022. Posted in Columns, Local News

Bob Sloan Editor

It’s not uncommon in many situations to hear people ask: “How can I help?” In the case of children in the family court system because of abuse and neglect, there is a definitive way. Become a “voice” for these children by volunteering as a guardian ad litem. Guardian ad litem volunteers come from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds. For a few hours every month, these special people devote time to the children they represent. The most important requirements are caring and compassion for children. I can speak from experience to the impact a Guardian ad Litem can have on a child’s life. I have served as a volunteer GAL for more than 10 years. I have sat in the courtroom to see “my kids” get a “forever family/home” after years in the foster care system. It’s a great blessing to know that you may have had a positive impact on that child’s life. At the other end of the spectrum, I have had to deal with situations that make you both very sad and incredibly angry at how some parents can treat their own children. The phrase “guardian ad litem” is Latin for guardian “for the suit.” In South Carolina, it is a person appointed by a family court judge to represent the best interests of a child in a legal proceeding. Often in family law matters, the interest of the children can become lost and develop into a point of contention because of the stresses related to divorce, custody and support. Family court cases that commonly require a guardian ad litem include: • Contested visitation and custody cases; • Legal name changes for minors; • Abuse and neglect cases; • Adoption; • Termination of parental rights; A guardian may be agreed upon by the parties or their counsel, or may be appointed by the court. Under either scenario, a guardian’s appointment order in private cases will typically set forth the guardian’s functions and scope, hourly rate and fee cap for the entire case, which can only be modified by agreement or further court order. In DSS abuse and neglect cases, the guardian is typically a non-attorney volunteer. The DSS “lay” guardian will have undergone guardian training, and may have a background in teaching, social work or counseling. This person will also usually have his or her own attorney for any DSS proceedings. In private family court cases (meaning non-DSS involved cases), a guardian is typically an attorney, but that is not a requirement. A guardian ad litem: • Must be 25 years old or older. • Must possess a high school diploma or equivalent. • A lay guardian ad litem must complete 9 hours of continuing education for initial qualification. This continuing education must be in the areas of custody/visitation (6 hours) and substantive law and family court procedure (3 hours). A lay guardian ad litem must complete 6 hours of continuing education annually in the areas of custody and visitation. • A lay guardian ad litem must observe 3 contested custody hearings prior to serving as a guardian ad litem. Guardians fulfill two important roles for children in legal proceedings: to act as an investigator and reporter for the court and to advocate for what he or she believes are the best interests of the child involved in the case. The Guardian ad Litem program was founded in 1984 and has made a major difference in many children’s lives in the years since. And it has enriched the lives of adult volunteers. If you are willing to help, reach out, get trained and begin doing just that. For those wanting to make a difference in a child’s life, contact Florence County Coordinator Michelle Manning at (843) 669-7940 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. gov. The Cass Elais McCarter Guardian ad Litem office in Florence is located at 2120 Jody Road. Contact Editor Bob Sloan at editor@florence newsjournal.com.

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