Many times a child can be put in a situation where he needs legal representation apart from his parents or other concerned adults. In such cases, a temporary guardian ad litem is appointed by the courts to insure the rights of the child are honored. A guardianship lawyer is often used to facilitate the appointment and ensure that a suitable guardian ad litem is found. A child custody attorney may also be chosen as a guardian ad litem. In addition, a guardian ad litem may be appointed for an adult who suffers some form of incapacitation and needs temporary representation. A guardian ad litem may also be appointed to make sure an abused or neglected child does not slip through the cracks of the child welfare system. He must insure that an appropriate child custody arrangement is established for that child.
A guardian ad litem can be a child custody attorney, a social worker, a volunteer, or someone else with the appropriate qualifications to fulfill this adult or child custody arrangement. A guardian ad litem serves until a new child custody arrangement is reached or until his services are no longer needed.
Purpose of a Guardian Ad Litem
There are many additional reasons why a court would appoint a guardian ad litem. Those situations include:
- Divorcing parents who are seeking custody of a minor child
- Grandparents seeking custody or parenting time with their grandchildren
- Providing protection for a minor child with whom an adult associated with the mother may be exerting undue influence
- Cases of child abuse or child neglect
- Juvenile delinquency in which a parent cannot control the child
- Medical situations in which the parents, medical personnel, and the state disagree over how to treat the minor child
- Parents who ask a child custody attorney to help them retain responsibility for an adult mentally disabled child
- Children who seek to take responsibility for a parent suffering from dementia in many of these cases.
Parents should seek the advice of a child custody attorney to help establish an appropriate child custody arrangement. Without that, legal assistance children may become products of the system and not receive the attention and care they need and deserve.
The Role of a Guardian Ad Litem
A guardian ad litem is mandated to help the child make decisions or receive correction and instruction apart from biased and frustrated parents, family members, or other caregivers. Especially if the guardian ad litem is a child custody attorney, he can help make the child or ward aware of his rights and his options within his child custody arrangement as it currently exists. The guardian ad litem may also assist the child in making informed decisions about any possible future child custody arrangement that is open to him.
While the fees for guardian ad litem are usually split between the parents or permanent guardian, including time and investigations costs, he is not responsible to them in any way. He is responsible to consult a guardianship lawyer, if he is not such a professional, and help the child make informed choices concerning his child custody arrangement options. In addition, guardian ad litem must help the child decide among his medical options when that is appropriate, protect a delinquent child from frustrated parents or other caretakers and guide him to appropriate rehabilitation or correction, and protect children from abuse or neglect.
A guardian ad litem may also conduct an unbiased investigation to assist a child custody attorney in determining how a minor is faring in a child custody arrangement, hire experts to examine and testify to his condition, comment on parenting plans or proposed child custody arrangements, and much more.
In divorce or abuse cases, the guardian ad litem will meet with both parents together, each parent separately, and sometimes even with the child apart from the parents in a neutral location. The guardianship lawyer of each parent will also be included in those meetings. That will allow him to better determine the child custody arrangement that best meets everyone’s needs. In many instances if the guardian ad litem is not a child custody attorney, he or she will consult with one for further insight and advice. If he suspects there are problems with alcohol or drug abuse in the home, the guardian ad litem may ask that the court order screenings for the adults to determine if a child custody arrangement should include that home.
The parents or other concerned parties may ask for periodic updates from the guardian ad litem concerning his findings and his possible recommendations for a child custody arrangement. The parents may also enlist their own child custody attorney to guide them through the process and help them understand their rights in determining child custody arrangements.
Completing an Investigation by a Guardian Ad Litem
Once a guardian ad litem has completed his investigation in a custody case, he will present his preliminary findings to the parents and their guardianship lawyers. The guardianship lawyers will advise the parents on how to best formulate their child custody arrangements. Many times those child custody arrangements can be concluded out of court and the guardianship lawyers merely need to present the settlement to the judge. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, they must appear in court with their child custody attorneys to argue the case. The judge will then deliver his ruling for a child custody arrangement and the parents and guardianship lawyers will be bound to implement it.
Appealing the New Child Custody Arrangement
While the decision of the judge in a child custody arrangement is binding, it can be appealed. The guardianship lawyer of either parent can file a motion to reopen the case. However, most judges will not comply unless there is new evidence or there are new circumstances, which the guardianship lawyer can present. If he does reopen and modify the child custody arrangement, he may appoint the same guardian ad litem or he may appoint someone else to fill that role. In most situations, the parents may employ the same child custody attorneys to advise them in the appeal. Again, once the guardian ad litem makes his recommendation, the guardianship lawyer present their arguments, and the judge makes his ruling, the new and final child custody arrangement is binding.
A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is an individual appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child or incapacitated person involved in a case in the superior court. In order to become a GAL, an individual must complete a preliminary training program, provide background information to the court(s) in which the GAL wishes to serve and meet all eligibility requirements set by statute and individual county local court rules.