The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Guardian Ad Litem

What is a guardian ad litem?

A guardian ad litem is someone who is appointed by a family court during a child custody case to help maintain the best interest of the child or the parental rights and responsibilities.  A GAL is essentially a professionally trained guardian given the responsibility of interviewing parties involved in the case and reporting their findings to the court.

Why is a guardian ad litem appointed?

Most appointments of a guardian ad litem are at the discretion of the family court, however, in neglect or abuse proceedings, a guardian ad litem is required to be appointed to represent the best interests of the children in the case.  Once a guardian ad litem is appointed, they will be very involved with the child custody case.  Essentially, they will be conducting interviews, attending court proceedings, and submitting reports to the court about recommendations they have to ensure that the best interests of the children are guaranteed.

Who can be a guardian ad litem?

A guardian ad litem is required to be professionally trained to represent the children's best interests in a child custody case.  The training for a GAL may include:

  • how to interview children;
  • how to identify signs of domestic abuse;
  • how to identify signs of substance abuse;

What will a guardian ad litem do in a child custody case?

A family court might require specific things to be accomplished by a guardian ad litem assigned to a child custody case.  The court order will most likely list what those specific requirements are, and each parent may read that court order so they can understand the requirements of the GAL.

If a GAL is assigned to your child custody case, you can expect them to meet with the children to ascertain their perspective on the situation.  The interviews with the children might occur alone with the child or with another adult.

In addition to interviewing the children, each parent may also be interviewed, as well.  This might be accomplished by phone or face-to-face.  Also, other people that may have specific knowledge of the child custody case might be interviewed.  These people may include doctors, teachers, child-care providers, or acquaintances that have some useful knowledge about the case.

Lastly, a guardian ad litem may review pertinent records, such as medical records or mental health records for each of the parents.  The GAL might also request that either parent submit to a mental health evaluation.  GALs sometimes recommend counseling for various members of the family or the entire divorced or separated family-unit.

After investigating the dynamics of the family-unit, a GAL may advise the court about viable child custody arrangements, such as which parent should have physical custody or legal custody.  They will make recommendations on visitation and visitation schedules.  In addition, a guardian ad litem will provide guidance to the court about how much contact each parent should have with the children.

Each parent should receive a copy of the report created by a guardian ad litem.

Summarizing, the responsibilities of a GAL are typically:

  • To act in the best interest of the children in the case
  • To interview parents
  • To interview the children
  • To interview any other people that are relevant to the case
  • To be independent and objective
  • To avoid any potential conflict of interest
  • To request mental health or substance abuse evaluations if applicable to either party
  • To appear and participate in all court hearings or proceedings
  • To request that the court resolve conflicts by entering appropriate court orders


Will a guardian ad litem testify in court?

When parents are ordered to have a guardian ad litem, they should understand that the results of what a guardian ad litem uncovers will be heard by the family court.  Most guardian ad litems will attend all court proceedings.  While in court, they will likely make recommendations to the court about how the child custody case should be handled.  Furthermore, a written report might also be submitted to the court by the GAL.

Can a guardian ad litem be replaced if one parent has issues with them?

While a guardian ad litem is professionally trained, there may be circumstances where one or both parents do not feel comfortable with the appointed GAL.  If possible, concerns should be brought up to the GAL directly.  If this is not possible or if it is too uncomfortable, most states will allow you to inform the court via written document or by speaking with the magistrate.

A guardian ad litem has the responsibility to do what is in the children's best interests.  If this is not happening, concerns about the situation should be brought up.

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