A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) may be appointed by a judge in a custody matter involving a child or children. The GAL’s role is to represent the child’s or children’s best interests. This may be different from the role of any attorneys involved, whose job is to advocate for their clients. Many persons who serve as Guardian Ad Litems are either attorneys or have a social work background.
A Guardian Ad Litem conducts an investigation on behalf of the child. The investigation typically consists of interviewing the parents, children, other family members, teachers, daycare providers and other professionals. A Guardian Ad Litem receives special training and should be sensitive to children’s feelings and needs when asking questions. The GAL may also review school records, medical records and counseling records.
At the conclusion of the investigation, he or she often writes a detailed report of the findings and makes a recommendation to the judge. The recommendation may include where the child should reside, what type of contact the child should have with the other parent or party, how decisions should be made between the parents, etc. If the child is old enough to express a meaningful preference as to where he or she wishes to reside or how he or she would like to share time with the other parent, the GAL will often ask questions in a sensitive way to obtain this information from the child. The Guardian Ad Litem may present the child’s wishes to the Court without the child having to undergo the stress of being brought to Court.
In a dispute over where a child should live or primary residence, a Guardian Ad Litem can often be helpful. One of the many important factors that a GAL will consider in determining issues about a child, including with whom a child should live and/or how decisions should be made, is a parent’s ability to cooperate with the other parent in co-parenting.
Because the Guardian Ad Litem will have an opportunity to interview many witnesses outside of Court and gather information from them, having a GAL often decreases the number of witnesses needed for trial. Throughout the process, some Guardian Ad Litems make recommendations to the parties as to how they could work better together to co-parent their children. Oftentimes the work of Guardian Ad Litems helps the parties resolve their differences for the sake of their child or children and eliminates the need for what could be a stressful, contested trial.