What You Need to Know About A Guardian Ad Litem

- Gary E. Williams

The literal translation of the phrase Guardian ad Litem is ‘guardian for the litigation,’ which is the perfect way to think of the position. A Guardian ad Litem (or GAL) does not control the property or person of the child he or she represents, and does not support or provide a home for them. Rather, he or she serves as an advocate for the child when the welfare of that child is a matter of concern for the court.

WHO APPOINTS A GUARDIAN AD LITEM?

Family court judges appoint GALs, either on their own initiative or at the request of a parent involved in the case. The procedure varies by county, but any GAL must meet certain standards of qualification before representing the interests of a child in court. They must:

  • Be over the age of 21, or be between the ages of 19 and 21 and work as a certified volunteer GAL in partnership with a certified volunteer GAL over 21
  • Complete and submit an application
  • Provide two written character references
  • Interview with a local GAL program
  • Successfully complete 30 hours of training
  • Pass a Level 2 background screen at the end of the training period
  • Sign the Code of Conduct

WHO DECIDES WHEN A GUARDIAN AD LITEM IS NEEDED?

Courts generally appoint a GAL when the parents of the child cannot agree on questions of custody or placement, and mediation and other more traditional dispute resolution tactics have failed. A family court judge may also appoint a GAL in cases where there is some special concern regarding the welfare of the child. In most cases where a GAL is deemed necessary, the judge appoints one at the outset of the case. But a court can appoint a GAL at any point in the proceedings.