What is the Difference Between Guardian Ad Litem and an Attorney?

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A guardian ad litem is appointed by the court on behalf of a child or person with a disability to represent their best interests in a legal proceeding. Guardian means a person who acts to protect or help someone. Ad litem means for the lawsuit.  
An attorney, lawyer, or attorney-at-law is a member of the legal profession who represents a client in court when pleading or defending a case.  
The definition of these two terms is vastly different, and so is their job description.  

The Guardian Ad Litem is an Independent Investigator 

The guardian ad litem does not represent the child, parent, or court. They talk to the child, parents, family members, friends, teachers, social workers, and others. Afterward, the guardian ad litem will put together a written recommendation on the living situation they believe is in the best interest of the child.  

The definition of what is in the best interest of the child varies from state to state. Factors often include the child’s current relationship with the parents, stability of the living situation, and the parent’s cooperation in caring for the child.  


The Guardian Ad Litem is supposed to be fair and impartial 

The recommendation may not be what the child or either of the parents want. The guardian ad litem will let the court know if his or her recommendation differs from what the child wants, but at the end of the day, it is their responsibility to make a fair and impartial recommendation. The judge does not have to do what the guardian ad litem recommends in a case, but they will consider the report in their decision.  

An attorney represents a parent or child in the case 

The attorney is acting as a legal advocate on behalf of the person he or she is representing. The attorney works to convince the court that the living arrangement his or her client wants, be it the child or the parent, is the right one. An attorney serves the client’s agenda.  

Sometimes an attorney is also a guardian ad litem 

A person serving as guardian ad litem may also be an attorney but does not have to be. Volunteer advocates and non-attorney licensed professionals, such as counselors and social workers, can serve as guardian ad litem. Laws vary between states on whether one person can serve as both an attorney for the child and the guardian ad litem.  
To learn more about the responsibilities and requirements of a guardian ad litem in your state, check with your local bar association.  

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

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