If you’re involved in a dependency or custody case, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem. But what is a Guardian ad Litem and what do they do for the case? Keep reading for a comprehensive explanation of Guardian ad Litems and why they’re necessary in family law.
Definition of Guardian Ad Litem
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a court-appointed individual tasked with investigating the living situation of a client. The client may be a minor or someone considered legally incompetent, such as a mentally disabled individual.
The Guardian ad Litem’s job is to assess the current living situation or situations of the client and then make recommendations to the court in the client’s best interest. The Guardian ad Litem is not meant to advocate for the client’s wishes, but only make recommendations based on best interest.
Guardian Ad Litem Duties
The Guardian ad Litem has many duties. Completing these responsibilities allows them to gain a full picture of the living situation, so they can make accurate recommendations to the court concerning the client’s best interest. Guardian ad Litems are appointed to:
- Conduct independent investigations to determine the facts of the case
- Review relevant documents
- Interview people in the client’s life (including parents and caretakers)
- Talk to and observe the client for extended periods
- Investigate for signs of abuse or neglect
- Advocate for the client’s best interests
- Advocate for appropriate community resources when necessary
- Share information with the court
- Seek cooperative solutions for the living situation
- Monitor the entire case
- Maintain confidentiality concerning case information
- Present an official report with findings, conclusions, and recommendations regarding the client’s best interest
Who Can Be a Guardian ad Litem?
Guardian ad Litems are usually family lawyers with experience and training as a GAL. But the Guardian ad Litem can technically be any lawyer licensed to practice in the state. Most US states require licensed lawyers and will not allow family members, social workers, private investigators, or government officials to act as the Guardian ad Litem.
However, some states have more flexible rules and may appoint a volunteer advocate, counselor, or social worker. In some states, the client’s lawyer can serve as the GAL, while in other states it must be a third party.
When Is a Guardian Ad Litem Necessary?
In any cases where the safety or well-being of the client is in question, the court can appoint a Guardian ad Litem to assess the living environment and determine if there is neglect or abuse.
After investigating, they will make a recommendation in line with the client’s best interest. They are necessary when the court is trying to determine if custody or guardianship needs to be reassigned or altered.
How Do Guardian Ad Litems Define “Best Interest”?
Every state has slightly different definitions of best interest, but the idea is to determine what living situation is ideal for the child’s emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Some of the factors a Guardian ad Litem will consider when determining best interest are:
- The client’s relationship with each parent/caretaker
- The stability of the parents/caretaker’s living and financial situation
- The caretaker/parent’s ability, competency, and experience to care for the client
- Signs or suggestions of neglect or abuse
- Parent/caretaker’s mental health(both past and current), history of crime, violence, or substance abuse
Do You Need a Guardian Ad Litem?
If you’re involved in a custody, dependency, abuse, or neglect case, requesting a Guardian ad Litem can be a wise choice. Often, they are automatically appointed, but can also be requested.
If you want to hire a Guardian ad Litem for your case, contact CJB Law today for an experienced and knowledgeable attorney.