When child custody is at issue, the Court may ask a Guardian ad Litem – GAL – to do a home study. The GAL’s job: Investigate the facts and issue a report telling the court what is in the child’s best interests. The GAL is your child’s advocate. We know that having a stranger come to your home and talk to your kids can be nerve racking. Here are some basic pointers from the experienced GALs at Bays Family Law that explain what a home study is, along with a few tips on what to expect.
What Happens in a Home Study?
The purpose of a home study is to determine whether each parent’s home is safe and nurturing. In a home study, the GAL will visit the home of each person who is seeking custody, parenting time, guardianship, or grandparent visitation. The first visit is normally scheduled; later visits may be unannounced. While there, the GAL will examine the home setting, interview everyone, and observe interactions among the family members.
Who Should be There?
Each and every member of your household should be present. So should all of your children, even if they are not part of this case. If anyone else is in your home regularly, like a nanny, ask the GAL ahead of time if that person should be there.
Free Reign and Open Access
Give the GAL free access to everything. This includes every room in the house, the yards, and any other structures on the property. Barring the GAL from an area can be suspicious.
What to Wear
- Casual, clean clothes that are in good repair.
- Jeans and t-shirts are fine.
- Pajamas are not.
- Be open and honest with the GAL.
- Do not coach your child on what to say. An experienced GAL will spot that, and it can hurt your case.
- Don’t get defensive if the GAL asks tough questions or asks to see something.
- Don’t spend the entire visit criticizing the other parent; that can make you seem critical and judgmental.
- Never, ever say anything critical of the other parent or their family/loved ones while the child is present or within earshot.
- Be prepared to provide the names and contact information for the child’s friends, teachers, coaches, medical providers, and each therapist who has treated anyone in the home during the last five years.
The GAL expects you – and your house – to be on your best behavior. An experienced GAL knows how to uncover signs that your home was only cleaned for her visit. So, start getting your house in order right away – don’t wait until the home visit is scheduled. The GAL may check:
- Are toilets, tubs, dishes, and floors clean?
- Are clothes stored properly in closets, dressers and hampers? Or on the floor or furniture?
- Are beds made?
- Is Alcohol present or illegal drugs?
- Are bugs visible inside the home?
- Are there any unpleasant odors?
- Cat urine?
- Pet feces?
- Cigarette smoke?
Get rid of anything that smells bad. But don’t overdo it on the Febreze either. In the end, a GAL wants a house that children would be comfortable and safe growing up in. If your home looks like a fine art museum or frat house, it will likely raise red flags for the GAL.
- Does your home look like a child lives there?
- Are there age appropriate toys?
- Small toothbrushes and stools in the bathroom?
- Is children’s art on display?
- How about photos of the child?
- Do bedrooms and bathrooms have window coverings?
- Where does each child sleep? Who else is sleeps in that room? What else is stored there?
The GAL will check for healthy foods. No need to stuff your kitchen with organic vegetables and home-made granola. Just limit junk food and make sure healthy choices are present. Check food expiration dates.
The GAL will check the following:
- Is there a working smoke detector on each level?
- Is there a working fire extinguisher?
- Do staircases have proper railings?
- Are there signs of physical violence like holes in the walls or broken door frames?
- Are window panes are intact? Cracked? Broken?
- Do fireplaces have appropriate barriers?
- Younger children: Are outlets and stove knobs covered? Do you have sturdy baby gates, cabinet locks or corner covers? Are dangerous chemicals and sharp objects out of reach? Is the crib set up according to current safety standards (e.g., no pillows, bumpers or loose blankets)?
- Are animals child-friendly and properly vaccinated?
Drugs and Alcohol
- You don’t have to get rid of alcohol, but it should be out of a child’s reach. However, if alcohol is an issue in your case, this may be an issue.
- Is there any paraphernalia or other evidence of drug use?
- The GAL may check on prescribed medications. If you are on painkillers or amphetamines, the GAL may even count the pills to see if you appear to be using them correctly.
If you have questions about how to prepare for a home visit based on your circumstances or would like more information, please contact us at (317) 769-0630, to set up an initial consultation with one of our attorneys.