UPDATED: Child custody cases can be tough on the parents. It’s part of why they so often become heated and full of conflict. But it’s also difficult for the children involved. With so much going on and parents arguing back and forth, who is responsible for their well-being? Often the answer is a Guardian ad Litem.
If you’re involved in legal proceedings that affect children, you’ve probably heard the term Guardian ad Litem. But who are they, what do they do, and how may they impact your case?
In California, a Guardian ad Litem representing a child under the age of 18 is referred to as the Minor’s Counsel.
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What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an adult appointed by the court to represent the best interest of an individual, usually children, for a specific period of time.
A GAL is appointed either by request of one or both of the parents or by a judge’s discretion. This person serves to represent the well-being and best interests of an individual that needs help protecting their rights. Referred to as “wards” these individuals are usually infants, minors, or mentally incompetent adults who are unable to advocate for themselves.
The Guardian ad Litem investigates the situation surrounding a case, creates a report, and delivers these findings to the court. These conclusions and recommendations often influence the court’s decision.
Though the GAL’s suggestions can and often do influence the final decision, the court is not bound by the recommendations. This means that the court can make a ruling that is different from the GAL’s recommendation. Again, this often falls to a judge’s individual discretion.
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What a GAL Investigates
During an investigation, a Guardian ad Litem looks at many things. This usually includes interviews with both parents, but that’s not all. To get a full view of the situation, GALs often also talk to teachers, counselors, and other adults who have contact with the child and may have some insight into the case. In addition, they may also speak with friends and family members identified by the parents.
During the investigation, the GAL considers numerous factors. The list includes:
- The wishes of the child and the parents,
- The amount of time the child regularly spends with each parent,
- The child’s age,
- The child’s developmental and educational needs,
- Other significant factors that impact the child’s well being.
If your case is assigned a GAL, expect them to be a presence throughout your case. They are usually involved until an agreement has been reached and approved by a judge or a hearing takes place and the case is decided.
Divorce and custody cases can be expensive. A Guardian ad Litem adds additional expenses. The cost can easily reach thousands of dollars if there are multiple areas of contention.
Still, these are people who have the best interests of your children at heart. During high-conflict cases, it’s all too easy for parents to lose sight of that and make everything about themselves. A Guardian ad Litem is there to make sure someone always thinks of the children.