You may have heard the term Guardian Ad Litem or GAL mentioned by your attorney or someone else related to your upcoming legal proceedings, so what is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A "Guardian Ad Litem" (GAL) is an individual appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of an individual who is unable to represent themselves either due to age or incompetence.
A GAL is often appointed to represent the interests of a child in a custody case or an elderly person in a guardianship or conservatorship matter. A court may appoint a GAL to represent a child in a personal injury case when the child's case is being settled and the amount of the settlement is over $5,000.00. "Ad Litem" is a Latin phrase that translates to "for the suit."
So what does a GAL do?
Well the purpose of the Guardian Ad Litem is to make recommendations for what they believe is in the best interest of the person they have been appointed to represent. So depending on the type of case their investigation might differ.
For a personal injury case the investigation may be as simple as meeting with the parents, the child, reviewing medical records and the offer of settlement. Depending on the value of the settlement they might recommend the parents be given the money to use for the child, or they might recommend that the parents only be given a portion of the funds and the remaining amount be held in trust for the child until they reach the age of majority.
In a child custody case where the goal is to determine what parent to give primary custody of the child to the investigation might be more extensive. The GAL might meet with each parent separately, do home visits, meet with the child, go to the child's school and speak with administration and teachers, or any other action they think necessary to determine what is in that child's best interest.
Similar actions might be taken when the GAL is looking to determine who to give guardianship or conservatorship over an elderly individual. They may look at financial stability, closeness of the relationship, needs of the individual, and may speak with doctors.
Ultimately, the GAL is always being guided by that principal of what is in the "best interests" of the person they represent.
Does the Judge have to listen to the GAL
No, the Judge does not have to do what the GAL says is in the best interests of the child. However, the Judge appointed this person as the GAL to do an investigation and to represent that child and their needs. The Judge is going to take the investigation, report and recommendations of the GAL seriously when evaluating the case.
So how does a GAL get paid
A GAL will keep up with the time they spend working on the case. At the close of the matter the GAL will report to the Judge how much time they spent working on the case and request payment for their time. They may suggest an hourly rate or the judge may have one in mind. In auto accident cases the insurance company will typically be the one paying the GAL, in custody disputes and other matters the judge may split that fee between the parties or order one party to pay it.
How to handle a GAL investigation
Understanding the purpose of the GAL investigation is a good first step, and if you have made it this far into this article you have a good grasp of that now. The best thing to do is just be honest with the GAL and consult with an attorney experienced in the area of law your lawsuit is in. Child custody disputes are always a sensitive and difficult topic and no one likes the idea of having another person telling them what is in the best interest of their child. Find a family law attorney that is going to approach your case with diligence, compassion, and candor.