You may have heard the term “guardian ad litem,” but do you know what it means? It’s a Latin term. “Ad litem” means at law, so the full term means guardian at law. A guardian ad litem is an independent expert who is appointed by the court as an advocate for the child. They can speak on the child’s behalf and protect the child’s rights and interests in court. Sometimes they are also referred to as statutory representatives.

When Is a Guardian Ad Litem Appointed?

It is not easy for children to have a voice in court. Unlike their parents, they cannot hire their own lawyers and take other actions to make their interests known. Sure, sometimes, the judge may speak to them away from the court and their parents, usually in his chamber, and ask them about their preferences. But that doesn’t happen very often and it isn’t something every child in a custody fight situation can count on. In fact, it happens mostly in the context of custody cases.

It also doesn’t necessarily mean that the children will get their wishes, just that their wishes are “taken into consideration” as the judge determines what would be in their best interest, which includes a range of other factors.

Their parents can certainly argue their children’s case as well, but sometimes, there is a conflict of interest, especially in acrimonious divorce and/or custody cases. If it is clear that the child needs someone to advocate for them, the court can appoint a guardian ad litem. In some cases, a guardian ad litem is actually required, while in other cases, a parent may want to have one appointed.

In that case, a parent can request that a guardian ad litem be appointed. To get help with that, they might want to speak with an experienced family law attorney, who can also assist them with working effectively with the guardian ad litem, once their child has one.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

First of all, the guardian ad litem’s role has nothing to do with being the child’s legal guardian. They are not involved in day-to-day matters, such as schooling, medical matters, living conditions, leisure activities, and financial issues. Instead, their sole purpose is to protect the child’s interest before the court.

In order to do so effectively, they get to know the child and the family, along with any other people in their environment, and assess the child’s situation. Then, they represent the child’s interests in court and help the judge to come up with decisions that align with the child’s best interests. If you are not sure how to best work with a guardian ad litem, you might want to get some help from an experienced child custody lawyer.

In certain situations, a guardian ad litem is required and must be appointed. These include cases where the child is in foster care, when they are neglected, or when they are otherwise in need of child protective services. A guardian ad litem must also be appointed if a child is accused of a crime and their case is tried in juvenile court.

In other situations, the judge may also appoint a guardian ad litem even though it is not absolutely required. The most common of these cases occurs in situations where the parents are fighting with each other over who gets custody for the children. With each of the parents having their own lawyer, the child can feel lost and will need someone who looks out for his or her interests and stays focused on what’s best for them. And that someone would be the guardian ad litem.

After spending time with the child, the parents, and any other involved parties, the guardian ad litem prepares a written report for the judge. This report will contain the kind of information that can help them with making their decision in the child’s best interest.

Are There Other Situations Where a Guardian Ad Litem Can Be Appointed?

Yes. In fact, there are basically three types of situations where a guardian ad litem can be appointed:

  • If the person is a minor, which is the focus of this article
  • If the person is incapacitated, whether the person is a minor or an adult, or
  • If the person’s identity or whereabouts are unknown

In all of these cases, the person needs an advocate, and the court makes sure that they will have one in the form of a guardian ad litem.

Special Scenarios

There are also special scenarios where the situation can be slightly different. When the guardian ad litem represents foster children, for example, the children may want to return to their parents while the guardian ad litem does not agree. As you can find in Foster Arizona’s section on Guardians ad litem, children who are 12 years of age or older may have an attorney appointed who will represent them in these kinds of situations where their wishes are different from the guardian ad litem’s recommendations.

What You Should Do

If you are in a situation where you want to request a guardian ad litem for your child, or if you could use some help with working with a guardian ad litem, be sure to contact an experienced family law attorney. We have plenty of experience working with guardians ad litem. Call or email us for a free consultation and we will be happy to help you.