Guardian ad Litem Explained

Want to know what the term "Guardian ad Litem" means? We've got you covered in this blog post.


What is a Guardian ad Litem?

So, let's start with a basic definition.

A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a court-appointed guardian that watches over someone during a case (their "ward").

Guardian ad Litems are frequently used by Courts to represent children's (or other incompetent person's) interests when they are too young, or otherwise unable to represent themselves. This could occur in cases of adoption, child custody, divorce, visitation, and many other situations.


In each of these cases, a Court will issue a Guardian to oversee a ward's best interests. This can occur with or without the Ward's or parent's consent. For example, a Guardian may represent a small child in a contentious case of custody between their parents who disagree over primary custody.


Parties are required to work with the Guardian, and are expressly forbidden from "coaching" the minor to influence the outcome.


What Does the Guardian Do?

At a broad level, the Guardian is there to investigate what solutions would be in the "best interest" of the child (or children) or incompetent person (such as with a person with a mental disability). This encompasses a wide range of scenarios, such as:

  • Where the child should primarily live

  • Which parent should have primary custody

  • Does either parent poise a physical or mental risk to the child

  • Has the child been harmed by a parent

  • Does the child feel comfortable and safe around both parents

  • Should a parent be allowed contact with a child

  • Should a parent have equal custody of a child after a prior incident

Even more generally, a Guardian ad Litem can be tasked with different jobs depending on the Court order. For example, a Judge may request a Guardian to oversee the child's "general wellbeing and overall situation." In another situation, a Court may issue a limited-purpose appointment to look at one, or multiple specific instances.


Who Can Be a Guardian ad Litem?

GAL's require special training and can come from a number of different backgrounds. However, most Guardians are either an attorney or mental health professional.


Guardians are trained and tasked with understanding and uncovering the best interest of the child. This is a broad scope that takes a trained professional. Factors that a guardian will consider could be:

  • The child's current and prior relationship with their parents

  • The stability and living situation of the parents (including their finances and home location)

  • The mental health of the parents

  • Other children or family that must be considered in the outcome


How Much Can a Guardian Affect the Outcome?

Put simply - a lot.


A GAL will usually be asked to deliver either a verbal or written recommendation to the Court. This recommendation can cary significant weight, and ultimately can be the deciding factor in many situations.


Because Guardians are meant to protect only their ward's best interests, a Judge may lean heavily on their recommendation. Unless the Judge has a very specific and obvious reason, they are unlikely to go against a Guardian's advice.



Final Thoughts

A Guardian ad Litem is a Court-appointed person who oversees the best interest of a child or minor in a family law matter. Parties must work with the GAL to help uncover the best interest of the Ward. The final recommendation to the Court made by the Guardian will carry significant weight in the ultimate outcome.


At Lauren Smith Legal Services, we have worked with Guardians and Wards for more than a decade. If you have specific questions regarding a Guardian ad Litem, please reach out for a free consultation.



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