Understanding the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem

gavel and scales of justice

Have you encountered the term ‘guardian ad litem’ during child custody proceedings? This Latin term translates to mean guardian ‘for the suit.’ 

 A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a trained specialist who serves in an investigative capacity and produces written reports to the Probate & Family Court for cases concerning the care and custody of minor children. Their reports provide information regarding the child, their family, and their home life environment. GALs are most often court-appointed but may be elected by the parties. There are two types of GALs – Category F GALs and Category E GALs.  

  • Category F GALs are attorneys who have substantial experience with child custody cases. They gather and analyze facts to make an informational report to the court. 

  • Category E GALs are mental health professionals and in addition to the standard report, they conduct and report mental health assessments. 

GALs are not advocates. They are neutral, third parties. They do not represent either parent, nor the child or children involved in the case. Their focus is to gather and report facts that will allow the court to make decisions for custody and parenting time that are in the child’s best interest. Their purpose is to promote uniform, consistent, and accountable investigations, to improve outcomes for children, and promote respect for the parties and children. 

GALs investigate through observation and interviews. They will visit the child’s home to see the interactions between the child and parents. They will speak with the child, parents, and any other adults living in the child’s home. They may even speak with other influential adults in the child’s life, like teachers, doctors, or coaches. After information gathering, the GAL compiles a formal report, that is filed with the court. The judge may request recommendations regarding custody and the parenting plan. If requested, recommendations are included in the report. The court typically reviews the report at a hearing. However, a GAL may be called to testify at trial and the report may be used as evidence. 

Ryder & Phelps, P.C. has significant experience handling child custody matters where a GAL has been appointed. Additionally, both Attorney Ryder and Attorney Phelps have been appointed by numerous judges as guardian ad litem. This insight allows our office to provide clients with meaningful knowledge to prepare for the GAL process in its entirety, as well as inform them of the potential outcomes based on their report. Visit this page on our website to learn more about how our firm handles child custody proceedings.  

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