A guardian ad litem is a person trained to represent children or diasabled/incapacitated people when they are involved in court proceedings. A “guardian” is someone who works to serve or protect another person. “Ad litem” means “for the lawsuit.”
Guardians ad litem advocate for the best interests of the child. A child is often appointed a guardian ad litem as part of a child abuse and neglect case, divorce proceedings, and other family court matters where custody and visitation are at issue. They are also appointed to represent the interests of children or disabled/incapacitated people during probate proceedings.
What Do Guardians ad Litem Do?
Guardians ad litem work for the court. They do an independent investigation and then make recommendations based on the best interests of the child. The guardian ad litem will speak to several people as part of their investigation, including the child, parents and other family members, teachers, social workers, counselors, caregivers, and friends. Their focus is completely on the best interests of the child, regardless of others’ interests and priorities.
Guardians ad litem are routinely appointed in child neglect cases. They play an important role when deciding issues such as:
- Whether the child should be removed from their parents’ home;
- How often the child should visit with their parents;
- Whether those visits should be supervised; and
- Whether parental rights should be terminated.
If a child is removed from the home the guardian ad litem can make recommendations regarding placement, such as with foster parents or other family members.
The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem in divorce proceedings when there is a dispute over custody and visitation. As in abuse and neglect cases, the guardian ad litem will make recommendations based on the best interests of the child. The guardian ad litem will do their own investigation to determine which parent should have primary custody and what kind of visitation will be most beneficial to the child.
During probate proceedings a guardian ad litem serves to represent a child or disabled person’s interests as a beneficiary to the estate. The guardian ad litem also advocates on their behalf as necessary. For example, if a will is contested and one of the beneficiaries to the estate is a child, a guardian ad litem might be appointed to protect the child’s interest as a beneficiary during the will contest proceedings.
Who Can Be a Guardian ad Litem?
In most states guardians ad litem can be any adult who has completed the required training. In some states guardians ad litem must be attorneys. Most guardians ad litem are paid, though the compensation varies. Some are paid hourly for court appearances and out-of-court investigative work. Others are paid as full-time salaried employees.
Do Guardians ad Litem Go To Court?
Guardians ad litem prepare a written report after doing their investigation, but may also be called to testify in court.
In child abuse and negect or “dependecy” cases, the court holds periodic hearings to review the child’s placement, visitation schedule, and whether the parents’ are complying with court-ordered counseling, parenting classes, and/or drug and alcohol treatment. One of the people who will testify at the hearing is the guardian ad litem. They will share their written report with all of the parties prior to the hearing.
Guardians ad litem will meet with the child, parents, foster parents, social workers, teachers, and counselors before reporting to the court with their recommendations. The guardian ad litem will report on the child’s well being and share their opinion regarding the child’s placement, visitation with their parents, and whether reunification with the parents is in the child’s best interest.
Guardians ad litem will also go to court as necessary during divorce proceedings to make recommendations regarding child custody. The guardian ad litem can testify about the child’s well being and living conditions. The guardian ad litem may voice the child’s preferences as part of their report, but is never under any obligation to do what the child wants.
Do I Need a Lawyer for my Guardian ad Litem Issue?
If the court has appointed a guardian ad litem for your child you should consult with an experienced family law attorney. This is especially true if you have been accused of child abuse or neglect and your parental right are in jeopardy. If there have been criminal charges filed against you for abuse or neglect you should also consult with a criminal defense attorney.
Any court proceeding where a guardian ad litem has been appointed has the potential to be lengthy and complicated. They may involve various issues that can be somewhat difficult to understand without the aid of a lawyer or legal professional. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights as your case moves through the system.