A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the best interests of minor children in matters of custody and visitation pending before the court. Should litigants in such cases desire for the appointment of a GAL, they may, through their counsel, motion the court with this request and may also even agree as to who will appointed to serve in their case.
The appointment of the GAL is used most frequently in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations (J&DR) courts. At the initial stage of the proceedings, the role of the GAL is to begin an investigation, which typically includes meeting with both parties, meeting with the child/children and determining any collateral sources that could be helpful to the GAL’s investigation. There are times the GAL will recommend a settlement conference to encourage the litigants to discuss the custody and visitation matters pre-trial. While the GAL is not a mediator, the setting is one in which the GAL can help guide the parties to a resolution that can incorporate important factors for the parties and, most importantly, the child/children.
If the litigants in custody and visitation matters must conduct a trial, the GAL participates in that just as the other lawyers. It is the role of the GAL to prove a recommendation to the court at the conclusion of the evidence regarding the ultimate issue(s) the court must decide. Should either litigant be dissatisfied with the court’s order and appeal to the Circuit Court, the matter will be heard again in a trial de novo (meaning a new trial). The GAL will participate in this proceeding too, upon reappointment by the Circuit Court.
The GAL also can serve in divorce matters that originate in the Circuit Court that have custody and visitation components. It is more common that counsel representing the litigants in the divorce proceedings will motion the court for the appointment of a GAL. There are, however, cases where a court, on its own motion, will determine that the appointment of a GAL is necessary. No matter the origination of the anticipated need for the appointment, the role of the GAL is the same.