Guardian ad litem – commonly abbreviated as GAL – is a lawyer who is appointed by the court to represent the interests of minor children in divorce cases, child custody cases, child neglect, and abuse cases, juvenile delinquency cases, guardianship disputes, and other cases where minor children are involved.
Ad litem is a Latin term which means ‘for the proceedings’ or ‘for the lawsuit’. A GAL is meant to serve as the guardian for the children for the duration of the legal proceedings.
What Exactly Does a GAL Do?
Generally speaking, a GAL is required to act in the best interests of the children in question and to advocate for their needs and rights.
For instance, in a contested divorce case, both parents might seek custody of the children. In such a scenario, the GAL might conduct an investigation to determine what kind of custody and visitation arrangement might be in the best interests of the children and make a recommendation to the court.
The GAL will interview the parents, grandparents (if there are any), friends and relatives of the parents, teachers, counselors, and other parties who are either directly involved in the case or can provide information about the children. They will also cross-examine witnesses and review the pleadings, notices, depositions, and other documents to get the information they need to make a decision regarding what is best for the children in question.
Most importantly, the GAL will also meet with the children involved in the case, talk to them, and find out their interests, needs, and wishes. The GAL might meet with the children multiple times in order to make the children feel comfortable and establish a bond so that they can get the information they need.
Apart from talking to the children, the GAL might also review their educational records, medical records, mental health records, and reports by law enforcement agencies (if any) in order to get a complete picture of the situation that the children are in, and the problems faced by them.
Who Can Be Appointed as a Guardian Ad Litem in Alabama?
Under Alabama law, a lawyer must meet the following criteria in order to be appointed as a GAL in a case.
- They must be licensed by the Alabama State Bar.
- They must have completed at least six hours of specialized training and must be knowledgeable about the factors that should be considered while deciding what is in the best interests of a child, how civil law, criminal law, and child welfare system intersect, and the dynamics of issues involving child abandonment, neglect, and abuse.
Apart from the aforementioned qualifications, the court will also consider whether the lawyer in question meets the caseload standards specified in Rule 355-9-1-.10 of the Office of Indigent Defense Services. If the lawyer has too many cases to handle, they might not be able to devote the time and effort needed to be a GAL, in which case the court might not appoint them as the GAL.
Can the GAL Make Recommendations Based on the Children’s Wishes?
No, they cannot. The GAL is not a personal representative of the children involved in the case. They are an officer appointed by the court and are required to determine the children’s best interests. Depending on the circumstances, what the GAL considers to be the children’s best interests might be different from what the children themselves want.
For instance, an abusive parent might emotionally manipulate their children into believing that the physical and emotional abuse they suffer is because of their own fault. As a result, the children might prefer to live with the parent, even if it means putting up with the abuse.
In such a scenario, the GAL will not make the recommendation that the children should live with the parent – even if it is what the children want.
Involved in a Child Custody or Guardianship Case? We Can Fight for Your Rights!
If you are involved in a child custody or guardianship dispute and wondering how to deal with a GAL investigation, the experienced family law attorneys at Alsobrook Law Group can help you.
We can prepare you to handle a GAL investigation, give you an idea as to what they might ask you, what kind of documents they might want to see, and what they might expect to hear from you as a parent. We can also tell you what you should not tell the GAL, as they are not bound by any kind of confidentiality clause and have the right to use the information you provide in their reports if needed.
To discuss your case with an experienced Auburn, AL family law attorney, call us today at 334-737-3718 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation.