Guardian ad Litem
A guardian ad litem (usually called GAL for short) is a person appointed by a judge to speak for a child’s best interests during a court case. A GAL may be an attorney, but does not have to be. In court, the GAL may ask questions of other people who are giving information, and may also answer questions about what the GAL believes is best for the child.
There are cases in which the court must appoint a GAL, and cases in which the court may, but doesn’t have to, appoint a GAL. The court must appoint a GAL in any case in which the state believes a parent is abusing or neglecting a child;
The court may appoint a GAL in other cases, including:
- child custody cases;
- domestic violence cases in which someone requested a protective order on behalf of a child;
- juvenile delinquency cases;
- adult criminal cases in which a child is a victim;
- emancipation cases;
- adoption cases;
- any other case in which the court believes a child involved in the case needs someone to speak in the child’s best
A GAL visits and talks to the child. The GAL also talks to others who know about the child, including family members, foster parents, teachers, doctors, social workers and psychologists. The GAL reads reports about the child and the child’s family. Sometimes the GAL asks other professionals to help the GAL learn about the child. The GAL may visit the child’s home and any place that may become the child’s home after the court proceeding. The GAL also investigates the services available where the child and the child’s family live.
In preparing a recommendation for the court proceeding, a GAL considers what the child wants, but may disagree. If the GAL doesn’t agree with the child on an important issue, the GAL may ask the judge to appoint an attorney for the child.
A GAL investigates the child’s situation, and speaks for the child’s best interests. A GAL’s opinion may not be the same as the child’s. What a child says to a GAL is not confidential. So the GAL can tell others what the child said, if the GAL believes that sharing the information will help the child.
When the court appoints an attorney to represent a child, the attorney advocates what the child wants just like an attorney would with an adult client. The information the child shares with the attorney is confidential. So the attorney cannot repeat what the child says to others unless the child says it is OK to do so.
A custody case is about how parents who have split up will make decisions about a child and where the child will live. In a custody case, the court only appoints a GAL when the parents cannot speak for the child’s best interests so the child needs someone to speak for the child independently of either
parent. A GAL is part of the case, representing the child’s best interests based on the GAL’s investigation.
A custody investigator is appointed by the court to give an expert opinion on the custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interests. The custody investigator is not part of the case, but will probably file a report with the court.
If the court thinks you need a GAL, the court will appoint one for you. If the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) thinks that you are “in need of aid,” the court will appoint a GAL and may also appoint an attorney to speak for your best interests.