Clarifying the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Florida
Representing children’s rights and interests in court and beyond
Most children have parents who are watching over them and making all of the important decisions in their lives. Unfortunately, there are many children who do not have this type of parental guidance and representation. In Florida, courts deal with this problem by appointing a guardian ad litem (GAL). This person, sometimes a volunteer, serves in a role as a child’s protector and voice in court proceedings and when dealing with social service agencies. GALs are also appointed in cases where a neutral party is needed because parents cannot agree on what is best for the child. In these cases, the GAL is generally paid by the parents. At the Law Offices of Schwartz | White, we are grateful to the many volunteers who take on this role. We work closely with them when a child’s welfare or safety is at stake.
Understanding the rights and responsibilities of a guardian ad litem
GALs are tasked with acting in the best interests of a child. Their job is generally to determine what would be best for a child and then act as their representative to help achieve that outcome. GALs regularly visit the child and attend meetings and hearings to advocate for the child. They are often asked to prepare recommendations to a court based on all of the evidence and information they gather. When investigating family law cases or other legal disputes that involve the child, they have the power to:
Interview anyone with information about the child or the child’s well-being including the child and witnesses. Some of the many people regularly interviewed by GALs include family members, doctors, counselors, neighbors, teachers and police.
Access medical records with a court’s permission.
Request court orders forcing the child or parents to undergo medical examinations by experts.
This information obtained in the GAL’s investigation is used in reports to the court. The reports may also contain information about a child’s wishes. A judge will take these reports into account when determining parenting rights and other issues. The GAL usually keeps acting in that role until the child has been placed in a safe and permanent home.
Florida’s guardian ad litem program
Florida promotes the health and safety of children in the state through its guardian ad litem volunteer program. Each county, including Palm Beach County, has its own program, and there are more than 10,000 volunteers throughout Florida who act in the role of GAL when needed. Anyone who cares about children can apply to undergo training and join the volunteer program — no legal background is required.
Boca Raton attorneys support Florida’s guardian ad litem program
At the Law Offices of Schwartz | White, our attorneys have more than 50 years of combined experience in family law cases, including those in which the state’s guardian ad litem, or GAL, program is involved. We understand that such guardians are charged with ensuring the best interests of Florida’s most vulnerable population. For more information about this program, contact us online or call us at 561.391.9943.