What is a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)?
Read on to learn more.
What’s the Definition of Guardian Ad Litem?
“Ad Litem” means “of the suit” in Latin. So, it makes sense that a Guardian ad Litem is someone who represents a child’s best interests when parents are unable to resolve a parenting or child-related dispute.
How Do You Get a Guardian ad Litem Assigned to Your Case?
The court appoints Guardian ad Litems. This happens one of two ways:
- The judge decides a GAL is needed, or
- A parent requests that the court appoint a GAL.
The Guardian ad Litem’s job is to ensure the child’s best interests are represented in court during the course of the parents’ disagreement.
What’s a GAL’s Role?
A GAL investigates the facts of the case, and advocates for what he or she believes is in the child’s best interest. In other words, the GAL testifies about his or her opinion of the child’s emotional, psychological, and physical needs.
The Guardian ad Litem does not represent either parent or any other party in the case. Rather, a GAL only represents the best interests of the child. In addition, the GAL does not make decisions for the court. The court makes the final decision on custody.
What Does It Mean to Represent the Child’s Best Interests?
46b-54 of the Connecticut statutes lists factors for GALs to consider when determining the best interests of a child. They are:
- Temperament and developmental needs of the child
- Capacity and the disposition of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child
- Any relevant and material information obtained from the child, including the informed preferences of the child
- Parents’ wishes regarding custody
- Child’s past and current interaction and relationship with each parent, the siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the best interests of the child
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders
- Any manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute
- Ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child
- Child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community environments
- Length of time that the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity in such environment, provided counsel or a guardian ad litem for the minor child may consider favorably a parent who voluntarily leaves the child’s family home pendente lite in order to alleviate stress in the household
- Stability of the child’s existing or proposed residences, or both
- Mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability of a proposed custodial parent or other party, in and of itself, shall not be determinative of custody unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interests of the child
- Child’s cultural background
- Abuser’s effect on the child, if any domestic violence has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual or the child
- Whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected
- Whether a party satisfactorily completed participation in a parenting education program established pursuant to section 46b-69b
The law does not require the guardian ad litem to assign any weight to any of the factors. More, the GAL need not consider all the factors and is not limited to the factors in making his or her determination.
What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?
The court may ask the GAL to do certain things to help the judge determine the best interests of the child.
The court may request that the Guardian ad Litem:
- Participate in court hearings
- Make recommendations to the court
- Investigate facts
- Interview the parents
- Interview the child
- Review files and records
- Talk to important figures in the child’s life, like teachers and coaches, and others
- Speak with medical professionals
- Encourage the parents to resolve disputes
- Conduct other functions the court needs
Who Can Be a GAL?
Guardian ad Litems must complete the comprehensive training program required by Connecticut Practice Book Section 25-62. More, Connecticut does not require that GALs be attorneys or mental health professionals, though they frequently are.
What’s the Difference Between a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) and an Attorney for the Minor Child (AMC)?
One of the other legal terms you might hear is “Attorney for a Minor Child” or “AMC.”
The Guardian ad Litem’s role is different from that of an AMC. A GAL represents the child’s best interests while the AMC (1) represents the child’s legal interests and (2) supports the child’s best interests. In other words, the AMC, while mindful of the child’s best interests, advocates for the child as an attorney on behalf of a client.