What is a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)?
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a person appointed by the court to represent the minor child and act in his or her best interest. A Guardian ad Litem is a neutral person who is an advocate for the minor child or children.
Typically, a Guardian ad Litem is appointed when there is a dispute regarding timesharing, allegations of abuse, or when a child has special needs that must be evaluated by the court. In divorce and family law cases with a minor involved, a GAL must evaluate factors that could affect the nature of the parent-child relationship. The GAL’s recommendation should protect the child’s right to have a meaningful relationship with his or her parents, as long as that relationship is in the minor child’s best interest. A Guardian ad Litem is also a party to the case and has every right to participate in the court process. The Guardian ad Litem can file motions, attend hearings, attend deposition, and participate in the discovery process. However, the GAL may also be examined and cross-examined as a witness. If either party is adverse to the report of the Guardian ad Litem, that parent must be allowed to cross-examine the GAL.
What does a GAL do?
Typically, a GAL acts as an investigator who advocates for the best interest of the minor child or children and makes a report and recommendation to the court. The purpose of this report and recommendation is to address the issues affecting the child or children. A GAL will interview the children, parents, and any other individuals involved in the child’s life including immediate family, friends of the family, teachers, therapists, coaches, relatives, psychologists, and doctors. Once the interviews are complete the Guardian ad Litem will submit a report and recommendation to the trial court. The report and recommendation is not binding upon the trial court, but the court may use it to support its determination.
Is the Recommendation of a Guardian ad Litem Binding?
A Guardian ad Litem’s recommendation is not binding on a trial court. Rather, the GAL is treated as a witness that provides evidence for the trial court to consider. While the report and recommendation of the Guardian ad Litem is given consideration by the trial court, it is reversible error for the trial court to blindly follow the recommendation of the Guardian ad Litem without properly considering all of the other competent substantial evidence presented to the court. Additionally, if there is evidence that the GAL failed to act in an unbiased fashion or if the GAL failed to adequately conduct a thorough investigation, these facts also should be considered by the trial court.
Who pays for a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem fee may be paid for by the party requesting the appointment of the GAL or may be equally split by the parties. Typically, the court will reapportion the fee at trial, meaning that the trial court may require one party to pay the fee up front, but at trial the other party to be responsible for all or part the GAL fee.