Family law cases are difficult on many levels, often requiring that very complex situations be sorted out for the benefit of parents, spouses, and children. If your family law dispute involves children, the court may even request that an outside party serve a unique role — guardian ad litem.
What is a guardian ad litem? How can they help both you and your minor children? And what say do you have in the matter? Here's what every parent needs to know.
What Is a Guardian ad Litem?
Taken from the Latin term meaning for legal purposes only, the phrase guardian ad litem (GAL) is an individual assigned by the court to look after the best interests of a particular party. A parent might be named as a GAL in order to file a lawsuit or other legal action on behalf of a child.
Another common usage of GAL services is when a judge assigns an independent third party to answer certain questions about what represents the best interests of a minor or someone who is not legally competent. This third party is often a legal professional and/or trained in mental health issues.
What Does the Guardian ad Litem Do?
The specific role of a guardian ad litem depends on what information the court needs. The GAL may be tasked very broadly with representing the minor's interests between two warring parents, for instance. They will serve as the eyes and ears of the court, including determining what the child's wishes are and helping express these.
More often, a GAL is given only a narrow range of tasks. If there is concern about violence or drug use in one parent's home, for instance, the GAL may research and investigate to determine if this could affect the child. They may also look into matters like the stability of one or both living situations, the quality of relationships, or the parent's ability to care for the child.
What If You Disagree With the GAL?
The goal of a guardian ad litem is to bring in a neutral third party with a trained eye to help resolve important questions. In general, both parties are expected to cooperate with them. If you have concerns about the GAL, though, you may speak with them directly or petition the court to speak about your concerns. There is even a formal grievance process in many courts.
Where Can You Learn More?
If you think that a guardian ad litem may be used to help facilitate your family law case, start by learning more about what they do and do not do under your state's rules.
Contact a family law firm in your state to get answers to your questions.
Hello, I'm Christina Miller. Have you ever been fascinated with why the law works the way it does? Ever since I was in junior high, I had an intense interest in anything related to our legal system, whether it be a crime drama on television, a judge show or a legal case covered on the news. I followed it all. As time progressed, I began learning about how the actual legal system worked and not just the fictionalized version of our legal system. This has lead me to start writing my own blog posts about law that I hope will help others.