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How Does Guardian Ad Litem Work?

How guardian ad litem works in family court.

In family court, guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person who the court appoints to act as an independent investigator and make recommendations on solutions that would be in the best interests of a child or person with a disability. Guardian is defined as a person who acts to protect or help someone. Ad litem means for the lawsuit.

The guardian ad litem is not a guardian of a child

The role of a guardian is entirely different. A guardian, or custodian, is a person who has “custody” of a child and acts as a parental figure. They make decisions about the child and pay for the child’s needs. This is not the role of the guardian ad litem.

The guardian ad litem works for the court. This means they don’t represent the child or either parent. A person serving as guardian ad litem may be an attorney, but they do 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 as to whether one person can serve as both an attorney for a child in the case and guardian ad litem.

The guardian ad litem, even if they are an attorney, is not a lawyer for the child. This means their recommendation about what is best for the child may not be what the child wants. It is the responsibility of the guardian ad litem to make a fair and impartial recommendation in the best interests of the child.



The guardian ad litem will talk to the child, parents, caregivers, family members, friends, teachers, counselors, and social workers

After interviewing and evaluating all the information relevant to the case, the guardian ad litem puts together a written recommendation. In a custody hearing, this applies to which living situation they believe is in the best interests of the child.

It’s essential to communicate effectively with the appointed guardian ad litem. The judge in a case does not have to do what the guardian ad litem recommends but will take the report very seriously. It’s important to respond to the requests of a guardian ad litem promptly. Be prepared to share relevant information with them, such as school records, medical records, certificates from parenting classes or police reports.

Teenage boy talking to a lawyer


Some judges routinely appoint guardian ad litem in every family law case, and others do not

In each state, there are certain circumstances that require the judge to appoint the guardian ad litem, such as cases where the judge suspects the child may have been hurt, threatened, or neglected.

The cost of a guardian ad litem varies as well. In some cases, the guardian ad litem may work for free. In others, the court will state who must pay. If you receive public aid, have a legal aid lawyer, or meager income, you will likely be able to waive the fee by filling out the appropriate paperwork.

It’s important to speak with your lawyer or contact the local bar association in your area to learn more about what might happen during your family court hearing, as laws vary widely by state.

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