A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney appointed by the court, either by agreement of the parties or by court order, to represent the best interests of the child.
A GAL meets with each parent and, depending upon their ages, meets with the children separately. Some GALs do home visits to see where a parent lives, how that parent is set up to care for the children, and to see the parent interacting with the children. A GAL may speak to pediatricians, teachers, and children’s counselors to get a better understanding of any specific issues or disabilities a child has that parents need to address.
A Guardian Ad Litem often evaluates each parent’s stability, including whether they suffer from any mental illness or addiction that could affect their ability to parent or co-parent. GALs often review communications between the parents to see how they speak to one another and to help determine whether they are able to solve problems together. A GAL will usually review medical records of the children and the parents to determine their needs and problems. The GAL’s recommendations frequently may be different from what either Mom or Dad wants or what the children have expressed as their wishes.
The GAL will investigate allegations made by both parties, address concerns about a parent’s ability to care for a child, and, if the case proceeds to trial, make a recommendation to the court based on the evidence presented and what the GAL believes is in the best interest of the children. Regardless of the parents’ parenting proposals, the GALs base their opinion on what is in the best interest of the children in terms of legal custody (making decisions for the children) and physical custody (the schedule for where the children spend time on a daily basis).
Judges do not like to see children brought to court by a parent to testify, so the judges often rely on the opinion of the GAL who has investigated the parties, listened to their wishes, and listened to the children’s wishes before making a recommendation to the court. A court does not have to follow the recommendation of the GAL, but generally, the courts give a lot of weight to what a GAL says.
It can be beneficial in cases to have a GAL appointed when an attorney is trying to assess the validity of the claims made by the parties, whether by their own client or those made against their client. The decision to ask for a GAL, as well as the choice of GAL, can be critical to ensure the children are properly protected. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney can assure you are fully informed about the GAL’s role, and will also help you prepare for the meeting with the GAL.