Guardian Ad Litems – Who or What Are They?

In cases involving children, it is possible that your child may be appointed a Guardian ad Litem “GAL” (an attorney of their own) if there are allegations of abuse and/or neglect. The GAL’s job is to conduct an investigation and be the eyes and ears of the Court. The investigation could include things like conducting records requests; interviewing the parties; interviewing the child, if appropriate; conducting announced and unannounced home visits, if necessary; talking to the school or daycare, if applicable; talking with the child’s counselor or physician, if available; observing visitation exchanges; and, any other steps that the GAL thinks is necessary to determine the facts of the case. What steps the GAL takes depends upon the nature of the case.

The GAL also has the ability to file motions for counseling for any of the parties; drug testing; resumption or cessation of visitation; status conferences, and, anything else the GAL feels is necessary to protect the best interests of the child.

In most cases, it will be your responsibility to make initial contact with the GAL. Many parties complain that after the initial interview, the GAL is never heard from again. However, unless the GAL advises you otherwise, it is also your responsibility to maintain contact. Although the GAL may not be talking with the parties on a regular basis, the GAL is most likely remaining in constant contact with the other professionals in the case (i.e. teachers, counselors, doctors, etc.).

At the end of the investigation the GAL then makes a recommendation regarding custody and visitation which the Court can either accept or refuse. It is common to not know what the recommendation will be even on the day of trial because the GAL is required to maintain objectivity until after hearing all of the evidence which means waiting until the end of the trial. However, if the parties wish to settle, it is not uncommon for the GAL to offer a recommendation and then to act as a mediator in achieving a settlement.