If you are involved in legal proceeding that affects that your child you have probably heard the term “Guardian ad Litem”. While you may have heard the term, you might be unsure what a Guardian ad Litem is and what they do.
In California a Guardian ad Litem representing a child under the age of 18 is referred to as the Minor’s Counsel.
What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem is an adult appointed by the court to represent the best interest of an individual (usually children) for a specific period of time. A judge appoints the GAL either by request of one or both of the parents, or by the judge’s discretion. The Guardian ad Litem serves to represent the well-being and interests of an individual that needs help protecting their rights. Referred to as “wards” these individuals are usually infants, minors, or mentally incompetent adults that are unable to advocate for themselves.
Often shortened to the acronym GAL, the Guardian ad Litem performs an investigation and creates a report from the findings of their inquiry. The GAL’s conclusions and recommendations will often carry strong influence in the court’s decisions. It is important to note the GAL’s suggestions can influence the court’s decision, but the court is not bound by the GAL’s recommendations. This means that the court can make a ruling that is different from the GAL’s recommendation.
A GAL investigation usually includes interviews with both parents and the collection of information from teachers, counselors, and other adults with whom the child has regular contact. In addition, the GAL may interview family and friends that have been identified by the parents.
During the investigation, the GAL will take into consideration numerous factors, including:
- the child and the parents’ wishes,
- the amount of time the child regularly spends with each parent,
- the child’s age
- the child’s developmental/educational needs,
- and other significant factors that will impact the child’s well being.
If your case is assigned a GAL, you can expect them to be involved in the process until a written agreement has been reached and approved by a judge— or a hearing takes place and the judge decides the case. Contentious divorce and custody cases requiring a GAL will add additional expenses to the proceedings. The cost of the GAL is paid by the parties involved and can easily exceed $1,000 if there are multiple contended parenting issues.