What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is usually a lawyer appointed by the Court to appear in a lawsuit on behalf of an incompetent or minor party. In Juvenile Court cases and Domestic Relations cases, the Guardian ad Litem is appointed on behalf of a minor child or minor children in custody, visitation, and/or other disputed child-related issues.
What does the Guardian ad Litem do?
The Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the Court to undertake an investigation of custody issues, visitation issues, and other parenting issues before the Court. The Guardian ad Litem is expected to meet with each parent individually and to meet with each parent and the child or children to be able to observe the interaction between each parent and the child or children. The Guardian ad Litem is also expected to meet with the child or children individually to determine the wishes of the child or children. If requested by either parent of the child or children, the minor child or children may be interviewed “in camera” by the appointed Judge or Magistrate with the Guardian ad Litem present.
An “in camera” interview is conducted with the Judge or Magistrate of the Court, the minor child or children of the parties, and the Guardian ad Litem. Each child is interviewed individually and neither party (Mother or Father) and/or neither party’s attorney is allowed to be present for the “in camera” interview. Parents and attorneys are excluded from the interview in order to increase the comfort level of the child or children.
The Guardian ad Litem is also given latitude to meet with and/or to conduct interviews with other persons. For example, it might be important for the Guardian ad Litem to speak with the child’s teachers, the child’s grandparents, the child’s baby sitters, and/or significant others or spouses of either parent.
Caveat or problem: Children who are not verbal cannot be interviewed and children who are not able to articulate their reasons for preferences may not be able to address their preferences/wishes to the satisfaction of the Court. The Court has great discretion in determining whether a child is able or not able to articulate his or her desires as to custody and visitation issues.
What is the Guardian ad Litem charged with doing?
The Guardian ad Litem, after being appointed by the Court and after meeting with the parties as suggested above, is tasked with providing to the Court and counsel for the parties a report setting forth the recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem.
Caveat or problem:
While families living locally can have home visits to determine the general condition(s) and safety of their homes and/or apartments, families living out of state do not usually have home visits of their homes due to lack of financial resources to pay for same.
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.