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What Is a Guardian Ad Litem and Why Do I Have One?

What is a Guardian ad Litem? A Guardian ad Litem is a licensed attorney appointed by the court to protect the interests of a minor child or children in a custody case. State law and local court rules govern the appointment of this attorney. A Guardian ad Litem is required to take additional classes and training regarding issues surrounding abuse and neglect of children. They may or may not have more specialized training than your attorney. Your attorney may also have the same additional training as the court appointed Guardian ad Litem.

What do they do? A Guardian ad Litem's job is to do an investigation and make a recommendation to the judge about custody. As a court appointed Guardian ad Litem they receive authority from the judge to obtain medical records of each parent, school records regarding the children, and they have authority to speak to any therapists of the parents or children. The Guardian generally meets with each parent and sometimes meets with the children. They will also call witnesses, review police reports, medical records, talk to doctors and therapists, and they have the right to request random drug testing of each parent if drug or alcohol abuse is an issue in the case. At any hearing the Guardian has the right to call their own witnesses, cross examine the parents or children and introduce documents to the court for the judge to review. Generally, at the conclusion of any hearing before the court the Guardian is asked to make a recommendation to the judge regarding custody and visitation. A Guardian ad Litem or GAL is charged with representing the best interests of the child as determined through their independent investigation and court process. This can sometimes be different than advocating for what the child wants. Judges generally give strong weight to the Guardian ad Litem's recommendation because the Guardian ad Litem is deemed to have done a thorough investigation into what is in the best interests of the child.

Why has a Guardian ad Litem been appointed? Guardian ad Litems are required to be appointed in all cases where there are allegations of abuse or neglect by a parent on the children. Sometimes there are no allegations of abuse or neglect but a Guardian is appointed because the parties or the Court believe it would be in the best interests of the children to have an independent attorney looking out for their best interests.

How is the Guardian ad Litem paid? The Guardian ad Litem is paid by each parent. Generally, each parent is ordered to pay one-half of the Guardian's fees. All or part of the Guardian's fees can be assessed to one party at trial. This means that while you may each be ordered to pay one-half of the Guardian's fees up front the judge can order one parent to pay all of the Guardian's fees at a later date.

What does the Guardian ad Litem charge? Guardian ad Litems generally charge the same or substantially similar rates as your attorney. Those fees generally run between $150-$200 per hour. They bill for all investigation, client meetings, and preparation for court. Guardians generally require an initial cost deposit or retainer of between $500-$1,500. They bill against the cost deposit or retainer the same way that your attorney does however you and the other parent are each paying half of the Guardian's fees as opposed to all of your attorney's fees.

How can I help the Guardian ad Litem? You can help the Guardian ad Litem by providing as much information as possible to him or her. Consider providing a written history of your relationship with the other parent, concerns you have about the other parent, examples of conflicts you have had with the other parent, concerns you have about your children and the other parent's relationship with the children to the Guardian. You can also help the Guardian by providing a list of witnesses, phone numbers, and what each witness would testify about to the Guardian. Witnesses are people that have information related to custody of your children. They include care providers, doctors, family, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends and others that know you, know the other parent, and who have been around your children. You can also ask any witnesses that you have to write letters that you can then provide to the Guardian.

Does my attorney need to be present when I meet with the Guardian ad Litem? Generally your attorney does not need to be present when you meet with the Guardian unless you have concerns. If you have concerns about meeting with the Guardian alone or your attorney wants to be present when meeting with the Guardian talk to your attorney about it.