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What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Many aspects of family law are familiar to the average person. Most people are at least vaguely aware of what is involved in divorce, for instance, or that parents are often required to pay child support for their children. The guardian ad litem, however, abbreviated as GAL, is often an entirely new concept to those who become involved in family law proceedings. What is a guardian ad litem, and why would the court appoint one? Here are some frequently asked questions regarding guardians ad litem.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

In some legal processes, a person – generally a child – cannot represent his or her own interests effectively. However, our legal system is constructed around the idea of having two parties advocate for their own interests, either with or without an attorney. To solve the resulting problem, a court may appoint a guardian ad litem (Latin for “guardian for suit”) to advocate for the best interests of the person in his or her care. The guardian may be a volunteer, a local attorney, a member of a nonprofit organization, or some other responsible person. In the state of Florida, guardians ad litem often come from the state guardian ad litem volunteer program, which trains volunteers to act in that capacity.

When Do Courts Appoint Guardians ad Litem?

Guardians ad litem are sometimes appointed in divorce or other family law proceedings. Courts will appoint guardians ad litem in cases in which a child does not have appropriate parental guidance or representation, when a neutral party is needed because the child’s parents cannot agree on what the best interests of the child are, or in cases of abuse or neglect.

What Exactly Does a Guardian ad Litem Do?

Guardians ad litem have various powers given to them by the courts to investigate what would be best for the child. They regularly visit the child, attend any relevant meetings between parties, and interview people with information about the child’s wellbeing or any witnesses to relevant events (for example, a neighbor who witnessed abuse or a police officer who responded to the child’s call). In Florida, guardians ad litem can access the child’s medical records after receiving permission from the court. They can also request court orders for the child or parents to undergo medical examination by doctors or other experts. Guardians ad litem are responsible for taking the information they acquire and using it to prepare a recommendation for the court regarding what outcome fits the best interests of the child.

What about Legal Guardians and Attorneys?

Guardians ad litem should not be confused with lawyers or with legal guardians. Guardians ad litem have responsibilities for the child only during and in relation to a legal proceeding, not for long periods of time or for the daily care and rearing of a child in the way a legal guardian may. And while attorneys may be able to serve as guardians ad litem, the guardian ad litem does not necessarily have a legal background. They are neutral third parties, not advocates for either party in the legal matter.

If you are involved in a family law dispute, you should know that the best way to protect your rights and interests is to seek legal representation. Consider contacting the experienced Boca Raton family attorneys at Schwartz | White at 561-391-9943 today for a consultation.

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